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Disastrous start dooms Bulldogs in state semifinal

Clint Cole/DCN Jeremy Helmick slides under the tag of Van Buren catcher Noah Whitten.Buy Photo
Clint Cole/DCN Jeremy Helmick slides under the tag of Van Buren catcher Noah Whitten.
Sam Martin/DCN A grounder sneaks under the glove of Van Meter second baseman Jake Eslick during the Bulldogs’ quarterfinal game against St. Mary’s of Remsen on July 27.Buy Photo
Sam Martin/DCN A grounder sneaks under the glove of Van Meter second baseman Jake Eslick during the Bulldogs’ quarterfinal game against St. Mary’s of Remsen on July 27.
Sam Martin/DCN Ben Engstrand connects for a first-inning double against St. Mary’s. Engstrand had four hits in five at-bats over the course of two state tournament games.Buy Photo
Sam Martin/DCN Ben Engstrand connects for a first-inning double against St. Mary’s. Engstrand had four hits in five at-bats over the course of two state tournament games.
Mike Ketelsen/DCN Kurt Sankey reacts after scoring a run during Van Meter’s quarterfinal against St. Mary’s of Remsen.
Mike Ketelsen/DCN Kurt Sankey reacts after scoring a run during Van Meter’s quarterfinal against St. Mary’s of Remsen.
Mike Ketelsen/DCN Kurt Sankey reacts after scoring a run during Van Meter’s quarterfinal against St. Mary’s of Remsen.Buy Photo
Mike Ketelsen/DCN Kurt Sankey reacts after scoring a run during Van Meter’s quarterfinal against St. Mary’s of Remsen.

DES MOINES — Anything that could go wrong for Van Meter on Aug. 1, in fact, did.

The Bulldogs committed eight errors, including five in a nightmarish first two innings, sealing their own fate with a 14-4 loss to Van Buren in the Class 1A semifinal at Principal Park.

“I really don’t have words for it,” said coach Eric Trudo, whose team finished the season 34-9. “I was really at a loss. We prepared very, very well the last three days, and it’s unexplainable.”

Two dropped popups in the first inning let in four runs, and Van Buren tacked on another five in the second inning with the aid of two Bulldog miscues. Starter Logan Crawford was driven from the mound in the second after surrendering four walks and two hits. Only one of the seven runs he allowed was earned.

“It definitely shocked us,” said catcher Ben Engstrand, who had four hits in five at-bats over the two games. “We didn’t come out to play. There’s really no rhyme or reason. We just weren’t focused.”

Van Meter faced a 10-0 deficit after the first two innings. Cody Blackwell scored on a single by Engstrand in the third, and the Bulldogs scored twice in the fourth on an RBI double by Blackwell and a ground out by Jake Eslick. Engstrand scored the team’s final run in the fifth on a wild pitch.

“We didn’t make our routine plays as we normally do,” said Brittain, who pitched the final five innings, allowing seven runs (five earned) on seven hits and striking out five. “We didn’t hit the ball the way we normally do. We just didn’t play our game.”

Van Buren went on to fall in the championship game to Newman Catholic, 6-2.For Van Meter, it was a bitter end to a season that saw the team win its second straight West Central Activities Conference title and reach state for the first time in a decade.

“We finally made it, and got past that substate game,” Brittain said. “There’s a lot to learn from. It’s not the way we wanted it to end, but just getting to play on this field fives us experience for next year.”

The 2003 team, also coached by Trudo, won the Class 1A state title.

“We had a great season: conference title, state tournament, final four, semifinal appearance,” Trudo said. “Certainly nothing to hang our heads about. It’s just that right now it feels awfully disappointing.

“We know we can play better than this. Van Buren won, and deserved to win, but I sure would’ve liked to see a different game with us playing better.”

Van Meter loses three seniors to graduation, outfielders Jeremy Helmick and Kurt Sankey and pitcher Zach Prouty. Prouty was 9-2 on the mound this season with a 1.73 ERA, striking out 40 in 48 2/3 innings.

“No matter how many seniors you graduate, it’s always a big loss,” Trudo said. “Zach had nine wins, Kurt and Jeremy played tremendous outfield for us. We’ll miss those guys, most definitely.”

The Bulldogs do bring back plenty of talent, however, and with another year of experience under their belts, they will be aiming once again for the top.

“It’s always a new team,” Trudo said. “Nothing is assumed, so these guys will come back and I’m sure will be hungry to make that final step next year.”

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