DES MOINES - North Tama was 11 games into the regular season before it knew what kind of baseball team it had to be.
Now that they've got that figured out, the Redhawks are headed into their first state tournament in nine years.
North Tama takes a 21-12 record, the No. 8 seed and a whole lot of 'underdog' into today's opening round of the Class 1A tournament at Principal Park, facing top-seeded Bishop Garrigan of Algona.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
The North Tama baseball team poses with its Class 1A state baseball qualifier banner after beating BGM 7-2 in the substate finals on July 17 in Marshalltown. The Redhawks received the No. 8 seed for the state tournament and will face top-seeded and fourth-ranked Bishop Garrigan of Algona in today’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal at Principal Park in Des Moines.
The fourth-rated Golden Bears (36-8) lead all of 1A and are third in the state with 33 home runs, their team batting average is .342 and they won a North Central Conference comprised primarily of 3A schools. They've won 22 of their last 24 games.
North Tama, meanwhile, has racked up 13 wins in its last 15 outings - a welcomed stretch of victories for a team that started the season 4-7 and was at one point 8-10.
"Earlier in the year we were tearing our hair out," North Tama head coach Dan Kopriva said after last Tuesday's substate victory over seventh-ranked BGM. "We've got some older guys on our ballclub but they're inexperienced, we graduated a pretty good group last year.
Monday, July 23
Martensdale-St. Marys (37-5) vs. Treynor (30-4), Noon
Algona Bishop Garrigan (36-8) vs. North Tama (21-12), 2 p.m.
Lawton-Bronson (31-3) vs. Lisbon (34-7), 6 p.m.
Mason City Newman Catholic (33-4) vs. Earlham (21-10), 8 p.m.
"I remember when we were 4-7 and we put our heads down. 'How are we going to make it through this season? We've got to battle just to be .500.'"
The Redhawks accepted that they were not going to score in double digits every night, settling instead to play smallball and do its best to prevent the other team from scoring. Over the last 15 games, North Tama has allowed an average of just 2.47 runs per game.
"Over midseason things started to click, guys kind of bought in that we are not home run hitters," said Kopriva. "(We decided) we're going to put the ball down and steal and execute on defense and have a few tricks up our sleeves too."
North Tama has only three home runs all season - two for Brian Seda and one for Brandon Kaufman. Bishop Garrigan's leader, Austin Vaske, has 13 homers - tied for tops in the state.
But being the underdog is nothing new to the Redhawks. After edging Iowa Star Conference rival GMG in their district opener, North Tama believed the odds to be against them prior to beating Don Bosco, Gladbrook-Reinbeck and, on paper, an untouchable BGM squad.
Yet here they are, headed to Des Moines.
"It feels good, we surprised him I'm sure," junior Jacob Wrage said of his head coach. "He probably didn't think we'd be able to do it but we did it for him, we battled.
"At the beginning of the year coach said they didn't know what to do, but now we're hitting stride and at the perfect time, so now we believe."