STORY CITY - St. Edmond head coach Joe Shanks believes his team is playing its best ball of the season heading into Tuesday's Class 2A District 4 baseball semifinal against Ogden.
The numbers support Shanks.
Winners in 13 of their last 17 games, the Gaels (16-13 overall) now turn their attention to the seventh-ranked Bulldogs (21-8) and star left-handed pitcher Preston Church.
First pitch is set for 5 p.m.
Church, a senior who will pitch for Div. I Western Illinois University in the fall, sports an 8-2 record with a 0.63 earned run average and 129 strikeouts in 55 innings of work. The 6-foot-3 southpaw is also Ogden's leading hitter (.462 batting average and 34 RBI).
''(Church) is a big, athletic kid who can do a little of everything,'' Shanks said. ''He'll come right after you; he has a good change, a hard slider and a fastball in the mid-80s.
''We've prepared in practice, but we haven't seen many lefties this season and it's tough to simulate a pitcher of (Church's) caliber. We have a gameplan in place, though, and it will all come down to execution, which is what July baseball is all about.''
The Gaels held off Eagle Grove in a district quarterfinal on Saturday, 7-6. The Bulldogs received a first-round bye.
''We've had two really good practices and the kids are very confident and upbeat,'' Shanks said. ''In baseball it's not about where you start, but where you finish. We've played very well down the stretch of the season and that's all you can ask for as a coach - that your players keep learning, improving and wanting to get better. We've done that.''
St. Edmond is led offensively by junior Hank Crimmins (.408 batting average, 29 RBI) and senior Tommy Setterdahl (.338).
Ogden has prevailed in seven of its last nine contests, though the Bulldogs did drop a 16-4 decision to Humboldt on July 8. Church, who ranks first in the entire state in strikeouts per seven innings, has 29 K's in his last 14 innings pitched. Both of his setbacks this season came at the hands of third-rated (1A) Van Meter (29-8).
Tuesday's winner will take on either Roland Story (24-13) or Clarion-Goldfield (4-16) back here on Saturday in a district final.