DES MOINES - Winning a North Central Conference title this summer just wasn't enough to satisfy the Bishop Garrigan baseball team.
Now, the fourth-ranked Golden Bears (36-8 overall) have their sights set on the ultimate prize.
Making only their second state trip on the diamond in school history, top-seeded Garrigan will battle No. 8 seed North Tama (21-12) in a Class 1A quarterfinal here Monday.
First pitch is slated for 2 p.m. at Principal Park, home of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.
"I can't say enough about this group of seniors (Austin Vaske, Zach Keith, Alex Boisjolie and Grant Reding), and not just in terms of abilities and what statistics show," said veteran BGHS co-head coach Gene Meister, who ranks sixth in state history in career wins with a mark of 929-379. "Our leadership has been phenomenal in a professional kind of way. We've really bonded together as a team."
Entering state play, the surging Golden Bears - who finished 16-2 in the NCC - have reeled off 22 victories in their past 24 games, including postseason triumphs over Belmond-Klemme (15-0), North Iowa (8-0), West Bend-Mallard (4-0) and Storm Lake St. Mary's (7-2).
Garrigan, which boasts a .342 team batting average, ranks first in 1A and third in the entire state in long balls (33). The Golden Bears also rank second in 1A in both hits (404) and doubles (96), while swiping 67 bags in 75 attempts (89.3 percent).
"We've really scored consistent runs throughout our order," Meister said. "Our No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 hitters are just not an automatic (out). We have a pretty deep lineup for 1A."
Vaske (.490 BA, 70 H, 62 RBI, 55 R, 13 HR), Keith (.473 BA, 72 R, 62 H, 40 RBI, 25 SB), Boisjolie (.407 BA, 57 H, 55 RBI, 17 2B) and junior John Burns (.382 BA, 55 H, 51 RBI, 18 2B) are the catalysts in the prolific Garrigan offensive assault, which has outscored opponents on the year, 359-152. Vaske leads the 1A state field in home runs, total hits and RBI and is second in batting average. Keith is first in runs scored and second in hits, and Burns is second in two-baggers.
"This team is similar to some of our other teams in the fact that they have won a lot of big games, which is a special quality," said Meister, who previously guided the Golden Bears to a 2A state runner-up showing in 1999. "In the NCC, 11 out of our 16 wins were pretty challenging games and really pushed us. You go back to the '99 team (which included former major leaguer and current Texas Rangers' farmhand Brad Nelson), and that group had (a state record) 90 home runs and just hit so much. This team has played a lot of close games (the Golden Bears are 9-3 in games decided by two runs or less), so that's the one significant difference between the two (Garrigan state teams)."
Vaske, an Iowa Central recruit, will also receive the starting assignment on the hill for the Golden Bears. The ace right-hander sports a 10-1 record this season with a miniscule 1.10 ERA. Vaske has surrendered only 58 hits in 76 1/3 innings of work, while striking out 104 and holding opponents to a .198 batting average. He ranks second among all 1A state hurlers in wins, innings pitched, ERA and strikeouts.
"Throwing Austin on Monday will give us the best shot of using him like we want to instead of waiting until Thursday and reducing his time (on the mound)," Meister said. "We actually have five kids that have thrown the ball quite effectively (the Golden Bears hold a 2.47 team ERA)."
The Redhawks ousted GMG (3-2), Don Bosco (1-0), Gladbrook-Reinbeck (4-3) and seventh-ranked BGM (7-2) en route to Des Moines. North Tama is 4-5 all-time in five previous state appearances, including a 1A runner-up effort in 2002.
"(Co-head coach and Gene's son) Rob (Meister) has done all the scouting on them," Gene Meister said of the Redhawks. "They've obviously won four games in a row to get to the state tournament, but we feel like we match up well with anyone."
North Tama, which placed third in the Iowa Star Conference at 11-3, is sparked by senior Brian Seda (.398 BA, 43 H, 32 RBI), junior Dalton Hulme (.337 BA, 33 R, 28 H), junior Brent Billerbeck (.313 BA, 25 H, 24 R, 21 SB) and junior Jacob Wrage (.303 BA, 33 H, 31 SB, 28 R).
Hulme (5-2; 62 1/3 IP, 53 H, 43 K, 2.47 ERA) or Wrage (6-2; 61 1/3 IP, 56 H, 73 K, 2.40 ERA) will likely toe the rubber for the Redhawks, who have prevailed in 13 of their past 15 contests after a rocky 8-10 start.
This afternoon's winner advances to face either No. 4 seed and two-time defending state champion Martensdale St. Mary's (37-5) or fifth-seeded Treynor (30-4) in the 1A semifinals Thursday at 6 p.m.