DEWITT — As Central DeWitt was taking batting practice recently on its home diamond, several balls were flying out of the ballpark.
“BP is a little bit more fun these days,” Central DeWitt baseball coach Shane Sikkema admitted. “The guys think it is pretty cool to hit home runs and go pick up baseballs on the other side of the fence.”
A program predicated primarily on defense and pitching during Sikkema’s tenure has seen a meteoric rise in its offensive production this summer.
The result has been 25 consecutive wins to start the season and a 26-1 record going into the closing two weeks of the regular season.
Third-ranked Central DeWitt has deposited 15 balls over the fence, second most in Iowa Class 3A and the highest total in a season for the program in 10 years.
Luke Anderson, Garrett Finley, Jacob Swanson, Devin Hurdle and Tucker Kinney have all connected for home runs for the Sabers.
“We’ve maybe been known as scrappers in the past, but maybe we’re an offensive team to be reckoned with this year,” Sikkema said. “We’re pretty strong one through nine.”
Besides home runs, Central DeWitt ranks among the top 10 in 3A in average (.340), on-base percentage (.441), runs (209) and doubles (56).
It has nine players hitting north of .300.
Just two years ago, the Sabers batted .279 and blasted only one home run the entire season. It batted .261 with one long ball in a 28-win season in 2015.
Now, it has the offense to go with that stout pitching and defense.
“Offense has been impeccable this year,” senior Lucas Bixby said. “Everybody has stepped up to the plate and done their part when they need to for us.
“Everybody made it a priority to go to the open gyms in the winter and get better because we knew this year was going to be a special year.”
Sikkema’s team can manufacture runs, too.
Central DeWitt has won six one-run games, including a pair of 1-0 decisions over Solon and a 4-3, 12-inning tilt over North Scott.
“We’re not just a baseball-playing group, but we’re a very athletic group,” Anderson said. “We can put the ball out if we need to, but we’re all pretty quick and run the bases pretty well.
“We all play other sports and do other things. We can do it all pretty much."
Pitching and defense remain the backbone.
Before Friday’s doubleheader split with Mount Vernon, the Sabers had a state-best earned-run average of 1.08 and a .963 fielding percentage.
They have limited an opponent to three or fewer runs in 22 of the 27 games.
Bixby and Alex McAleer, the top two pitchers in the rotation, are a combined 7-0 with just four earned runs allowed in 72-plus innings.
“We’re a well-rounded baseball team,” Bixby said. “What I like the best is we’re all one team. We have confidence in everybody on this team, whether it is pitching, hitting or fielding.
“Did I think we’d have this record? Honestly, no, but there was a little thought in the back of my mind that we were going to be a special team. It doesn’t surprise me we’re doing so well.”
Baseball has been Central DeWitt’s most consistent athletic program over the past decade.
It hasn’t experienced a losing season in at least a dozen years and averaged 28.5 wins the past four seasons.
Central DeWitt was 29-13 and reached the substate final last year before stumbling to eventual state champion Davenport Assumption 4-2.
That loss brought about a renewed commitment in the offseason.
“This is more of our redemption year,” Finley said. “After the disappointment we had last year, we’ve come out this year knowing we had to prove something and had a little chip on our shoulder. That’s contributed to everything that has gone on this year.
“This is more of a comeback season. We’ve definitely worked a lot harder.”
Sikkema said Bixby is arguably the hardest working player to come through his program. That work ethic, coupled with team unity, has parlayed into a lot of winning.
Even with the wins accumulating, Sikkema said his team has stayed grounded.
“Without the time these kids have put in the cage, on the mound or in the weight room during the offseason, we probably wouldn’t be where we are right now,” Sikkema said. “The season becomes a lot more fun when you put in the time during the offseason.”
Bixby, Finley, Devin Hurdle, Jacob Swanson and Drew Eden comprise the Sabers’ senior class, a group with 112 wins and counting the past four years.
Through school and other sports, the Sabers have formed a tight friendship — on and off the field. Team dinners and bonfires are frequent occurrences during the season.
“It is the inseparable bond we have as a team,” Finley said. “We’re constantly together on the weekends and in our free time. That has brought us so close together and contributing to the season we’re having right now.”
The Sabers know teams are defined by what they achieve in the postseason.
Central DeWitt has the inside track to its first Wamac championship. It has the top seed in its substate. It has a chance to be playing at Principal Park in Des Moines later this month and contending for a state title.
"Our class has tried to turn the tide here at DeWitt," Finley said. "(Substate) is in the back of our mind and down the road, but our goal right now is conference champions, something we’ve never done."
That day-by-day approach has served the Sabers well so far.
"We really don't think or talk much about our record," Bixby said. "We come in, play our game, and the rest falls into place. So far, it has worked out pretty well for us."