Brittain’s Bulldogs best BGM, reach state

BGM of Brooklyn has little love for the Marshalltown High School baseball diamond the past two seasons.

It’s become the place the Bears’ ultimate hopes and dreams have disappeared.

Brandon Brittain tamed BGM’s reckless abandon on the basepaths and third-ranked Van Meter rode the junior’s strong right arm into the Class 1A edition of the Iowa High School State Baseball Tournament for the first time in 10 years, beating the Bears 6-1 in Tuesday’s Substate 6 final at MHS.

Brittain struck out seven in a complete-game one-hitter, leading Van Meter (33-8) to state and leaving BGM wanting once more. The Bears (26-5) were ranked fifth when they lost to North Tama on the same stage last summer, suffering once again from ragged play and a surprising lack of attack in their quest for the school’s first state tournament berth.

BGM leadoff hitter Nate Beck had the team’s only hit off Brittain (8-1), who wasn’t planning on giving up the ball until the game was over.

Van Meter head coach Eric Trudo had little intention of taking it from him, however.

“I thought he battled well, I didn’t think he quite had his best stuff tonight but he was coming back on short rest and he hasn’t done it in a long time,” Trudo said. “He got stronger as the game went along, which he normally does.”

Brittain got four of his seven strikeouts on called third strikes, indicative of how good his stuff was and how out-of-sorts the Bears’ batters were.

“We didn’t play well on either side of the lines,” said BGM coach Jerod Burns. “It’s really tough. We’ve got a good group of kids who have worked so hard, but we ran into a team better than us.

“That’s two years in a row we’ve come here and played like this. We were an aggressive team all year and we’re up there looking at first-pitch fastballs and called third strikes and weren’t making productive outs. It felt like as the game went on they kind of packed it in.”

Van Meter made three errors in the first two innings, falling behind 1-0 after Beck’s bloop single scored Mayson Sherwood from second. Sherwood reached on sacrifice bunt that Brittain instead threw to second base, but the ball was dropped on the attempted force-out.

But the Bulldogs got to BGM’s ace righty, Zac Freese, in their subsequent at-bat. Jeremy Helmick reached on a leadoff walk and went to third on a Jacob Eslick single to right. With two outs, ball four from Freese to Ben Engstrand skipped to the backstop, allowing Helmick to score, and Brittain followed with a single that glanced off the glove of BGM second baseman Kaiden Fiebelkorn’s diving attempt.

Brittain held the Bears hitless the rest of the way, retiring eight straight before walking Beck in the fifth. The next eight Bears went down in order, too, to end the game.

“I had pretty much everything (working),” Brittain said. “I knew the top four hitters in their lineup were pretty solid, and below that I just wanted to pitch to contact because of the defense I’ve got behind me.”

Brittain gave Van Meter a 3-1 lead with his RBI single to score Eslick in the fourth, and the Bulldogs tacked on three runs against Beck – BGM’s third pitcher of the night – in the bottom of the sixth.

Van Meter’s first three runs all came from the bottom third of its batting order. Helmick walked three times and scored once, while Eslick was 1-for-4 with two runs scored. Brittain led the Bulldog bats, going 3-for-3 with a run and two RBIs, and Jake Chevalier was 2-for-4 with a two-run single in the sixth.

BGM pitching didn’t help itself either, walking eight and hitting three batters. Freese, who had already logged 12 postseason innings, got the loss for his three frames of work. He allowed two earned runs on three hits, four walks a hit batsmen and two strikeouts. Jack Kline went two innings, allowing an unearned run, and Beck tossed the final frame.

Beck was 1-for-2 with two stolen bases – the only stolen bases for a team that averaged 9.6 of them per game prior to their second straight substate final defeat. He and Blake Jack represented the only seniors on the top base-stealing team in the state, led by Beck’s 66.

“I wasn’t worried as much about them running,” Brittain said, “I just wanted to get them on the ground. I’ve been working on turning everything around, keeping positive and focusing on the next pitch.”

The Bulldogs will now turn their focus to the state tournament, the program’s third trip overall and first since winning the 1A title in Carroll in 2003. Van Meter is seeded third and will meet Remsen-St. Mary’s (25-8) in Saturday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal game at Principal Park in Des Moines.

“It feels great, I’m just happy for the kids,” said Trudo, who was the head coach when the Bulldogs won that state title in 2003. “I’ve experienced it before but for these kids, this group to get to go down there and experience it is just wonderful.”