With a convincing 8-3 state championship game victory over Lansing (Iowa) Kee High School on July 30, the Martensdale-St. Marys High School baseball team both won its second consecutive Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) Class 1-A state title and extended its national record winning streak to 87 games.
In that title game, the Blue Devils jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, trailed 3-2 in the fourth inning, but exploded for four runs in the fifth to take control.
Two juniors led the way offensively. Shortstop Robert Walker went 2-for-4 at the plate along with three RBI, while center fielder Brad Nauman singled in the tying run and his two-run single in the fifth inning put the Blue Devils ahead for good. On the mound, senior Ethan Westphal pitched the final four innings to shut down the Hawks.
Martensdale-St. Marys' streak marked the second time this year that the national record for consecutive wins had been broken.
During the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Homer (Michigan) High School won 75 consecutive games to set the standard.
On May 19 of this year, Portsmouth (New Hampshire) High School won its 76th consecutive game to eclipse Homer’s streak. The Clippers went on to extend their winning streak to 83 games on June 18 when they won the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Division II state tournament.
Then on July 19, Martensdale-St. Marys did Portsmouth one better when it won its 84th consecutive game with a 10-0 victory over Twin Cedars-Bussey (Iowa) High School in an IHSAA Class 1-A substate final.
On July 25, the Blue Devils extended their winning streak to 85 games with a 2-1 victory over North English (Iowa) English Valleys High School in an IHSAA Class 1-A quarterfinal game in Des Moines. In a July 28 semifinal game, they rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Coon Rapids-Bayard, 5-4, and extend their winning streak to 86 games.
Adding yet another record angle was the fact that Kee High School coach Gene Schultz is the nation's winningest high school baseball coach with 1,675 wins, according to the NFHS' National High School Sports Record Book. He also has coached the Hawks to 11 state titles.
“We were well aware of Portsmouth and its great success,” Martensdale-St. Marys head coach Justin Dehmer said. “After we broke the Iowa record, we said ‘Let's give it a shot and see if we can catch them.’
“But we never forgot about the one and only goal we had set - which was to win the state title again. Our players were thinking about winning it again about 30 minutes after we won it last year. The streak is great, but winning back-to-back titles means more to them."
A consolidated school district of two small towns located south of state capital Des Moines - Martensdale and St. Marys - its graduating class last year numbered just 40 students. Despite being small in numbers, the Blue Devils boast big talent and mental toughness.
“For a Class 1-A school, we have an enormous amount of talent and depth in our hitting lineup and on the mound,” Dehmer said. “But talent alone doesn't win games. Our mental approach has been the difference-maker for us during the streak. We try to play that game one pitch at a time, always staying in the present moment and focusing on the thing that matters most - which is the next play you are about to make or the next pitch you are about to make or try to hit.”
Adding a bucolic and nostalgic touch, they play their home games on a unique field in St. Marys that is somewhat reminiscent of the one depicted in the movie “Field of Dreams.”
Bordering the ballpark on both the left- and right-field lines is a cornfield, and 75 feet from the right-field fence is a white church replete with stained glass windows and a tall steeple.
The left field fence isn’t even a fence - it’s the brick wall of a former gymnasium that’s been converted into an indoor batting facility. If a player hits a ball off its wall, it’s still in play; any ball landing on its roof is a home run.
“I’m not sure how much the home field plays to our advantage, but it is a unique design and place,” Dehmer said. “It has sort of a ‘Field of Dreams’-type feel to it. Foul balls go out into the cornfield and we send a search party to find the ball.”
Yet another unique aspect of the field is the fact that former Martensdale-St. Marys baseball coach Jim Donohue - whose impressive 752-299 record from 1971 to 2004 is also listed in the National High School Sports Record Book - takes care of it. Donohue coached seven state tournament teams and led his 2003 squad to the state title.
Martensdale-St. Marys now enters the 2012 season with 87 consecutive victories, four ahead of Portsmouth’s 83.