DES MOINES — Lucas Bixby, Garrett Finley and Devin Hurdle were in the dugout when Central DeWitt’s baseball team made it to the state tournament in 2016.

None of them were significant contributors, but that season invigorated them.

“After our freshman year, us three were all like we need to get back here,” Bixby said. “That left a sour taste in our mouths. We needed to get better.

“We were so close but yet so far away last year. That’s when we really put the nose to the grindstone and found a way to get here again.”

Those three, along with fellow seniors Jacob Swanson and Drew Eden, helped the Sabers capture a school-record 38 wins, a Wamac championship and a state runner-up trophy — the best finish in program history.

The season concluded with an 8-1 loss to Cedar Rapids Xavier in Saturday night’s Class 3A championship at Principal Park.

“There are a lot of communities that wish they could get here,” Central DeWitt coach Shane Sikkema said. “We were lucky with this (senior group) to get here twice. Nobody else can say that in our program’s history.”

Bixby, Finley and Hurdle — all off to play baseball in college — were instrumental in the run to the title game.

Finley hit near .500 and was the Wamac East Division player of the year. Bixby tallied an 8-1 record on the mound. Hurdle, the glue of the infield, was the spark plug at the top of the lineup.

“(Coach) Sikkema laid out a nice path for us to follow ever since we were in eighth grade,” Finley said. “This year, I wouldn’t be where I am without the work I did in the offseason. That’s what contributed to what we did here.”

Despite the program being at or above .500 in every one of Sikkema’s nine seasons, Central DeWitt never has had back-to-back teams make it to Principal Park.

It has the nucleus in place to achieve that in 2020.

While four of their five seniors are starters, the cupboard isn’t bare for the Sabers in what will be their final season competing in the Wamac before joining the Mississippi Athletic Conference in the 2020-21 season.

The Sabers return two of their top three pitchers in Alex McAleer, who tossed a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts in Friday’s semifinal, and left-hander Luke Anderson who missed the final month of the season with a broken wrist.

Catcher Tucker Kinney, second baseman Henry Bloom and all three outfielders — Nolan Haack, McAleer and Boomer Johnson — return.

“I have all the faith in the world they are going to be good, if not better than us,” Bixby said. “I’d challenge them to be better than us.”

Hurdle, Finley and Bixby are eager to watch from afar next summer. 

“If they keep working hard and playing the way they play,” Hurdle said, “they’ll find success.”

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.