DES MOINES — As Pleasant Valley’s baseball team walked off the field at Principal Park just before 1 a.m. Thursday, there were heads slumping and somber faces.
The 2019 journey, which featured 25 wins and the school’s first state tournament appearance in 16 years, had just concluded with a 6-3 loss to No. 2 Iowa City West in a Class 4A state quarterfinal.
“I hope it stings a little bit,” PV coach Derek Stecklein said. “They got a little taste of it, but there is a sour taste in your mouth after it. It is great for our program getting here in Year 1.
“This is just the beginning of it.”
The Spartans lose a deep senior class that included six starters — Western Illinois signee Max Slavens, Peyton Lindmark, Eric Clifton, Kyle McDermott, Ely Adams and Carter Hoskins.
“Our seniors have changed Pleasant Valley baseball,” Stecklein said. “They are the blueprint of it moving forward. What they have done for this program and how they’ve bought in in a short amount of time has been phenomenal.”
PV was 12-10 in June before finishing the season with 13 wins in its final 15 games.
“We created a culture, especially with the talent coming up and the people already on the team, that they can carry through for a few more seasons and on,” Slavens said. “It was really big for us to get here.
“I’m just sad that it ended here.”
Stecklein’s team had been clutch at the plate in the postseason. It had 15 hits in a substate semifinal road win over Iowa City High. Slavens blasted a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the substate final win over Linn-Mar.
The big hit never came Wednesday in a game that didn’t start until after 10 p.m. because of a 2-hour, 40-minute weather delay earlier in the evening.
PV stranded the bases loaded twice, including with no outs in the third inning. It mustered only five hits and left 10 runners on base against Iowa City West ace Marcus Morgan.
Morgan, whose fastball registers in the upper 80s, coupled with a sharp breaking ball, struck out 11. He had to exit in the sixth inning because of pitch count.
“We had too many strikeouts obviously, but for the most part we made him work,” Stecklein said. “We just needed to do a better job of putting balls in play instead of strikeouts.”
Starting pitcher Jack Young, first baseman Ryan Mumey, third baseman Seth Clausen and center fielder Jose Lara are among the players returning for the Spartans.
“This was a real turning point for our program,” Young said. “A whole new coaching staff, it just shows how good they are and how much belief we have in ourselves. This is a stepping stone.”
Lara, who admitted he was in awe when he stepped into the Triple-A ballpark for the first time, said it provides fuel for next season.
“It really drives us more because we want to come back next year and win it all,” he said.
Besides the returning starters, PV has a talented sophomore class. The Spartans had the Mississippi Athletic Conference’s best sophomore squad.
Stecklein pumped the brakes on that automatically translating into a return trip.
“Our sophomore class was really good, but there is a big jump from sophomore to varsity baseball,” Stecklein said. “If we don’t continue to work, continue to develop and do things the right way, we’re not going to get back here.
“We have to continue to push the envelope, continue to develop kids, continue to work hard and we’ll be back here.”