London ball

New London baseball seniors worked hard behind the scenes

NEW LONDON – Four years ago, a group of talented young freshmen joined the The New London High School baseball team.

They dreamed of winning a state championship, hoped to put New London baseball on the state map, aimed to be the best in the state.

The New London team that year started the season 0-6, a far cry from what the freshmen imagined.

Four years later, that same group of freshmen are now seniors. accomplished almost everything he dreamed of. This year’s senior class — Kooper Schulte, Josh Catala, Ryan Richey, Seth Bailey, Carter Allen and Drew Benz (Camden Kasel, Tucker Gibbar and Dereck Santiago joined later) — are playing in their second state tournament.

Third-ranked New London (18-1) take on eighth-ranked CAM (27-2) in a Class 1A quarter-final match at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Merchants Park in Carroll.

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This will be New London’s second straight appearance at the state. The Tigers lost a 4-3 game to Kee in the state quarterfinals a year ago.

Since starting the season 0-6 in their first year, the senior Tigers are 77-13.

Seniors have helped put New London on the map. They have established a winning tradition. They laid the foundation on which future teams can build.

“It’s been really fun winning a lot of ball games and declaring, having all these great accomplishments,” said Gibbar, who transferred from Notre Dame after his freshman year. “It doesn’t come without all the hard work. If we didn’t do all the hard work we do every day in training, we wouldn’t get to where we are. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world .

“I love New London. There’s no other program I’d rather play for. New London is a place I call home,” said Schulte, the Tigers shortstop who is also their closest. “New London baseball, the last two years, has left a mark on that part of it.

“It was a great experience,” said Tigers first baseman Allen. “I wouldn’t ask for other coaches. They’re fun too. They have their humorous side, which we all do. It’s been a fun ride, all four years.

New London's Kooper Schulte jumps to catch a high throw in an attempt to pick up the runner at second base in the Tigers' win over Moravia.

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New London head coach Brad Helmseron has had the privilege of watching this year’s senior class rise through the ranks, starting with Little League. Even back then, Helmerson knew it was a special group of kids.

“It’ll be weird. A lot of these guys played for me in eighth grade. Cam and Tuck moved here, but the others, I saw them come up in Little League. As president of Little League, I saw them go through all the years there. I remember when they signed up for tee ball,” Helmerson said. “It was a pleasure to coach. These guys, you don’t have to ask them to do anything more. Most of them are here long before we ask them to be here. In a small school, you don’t have many opportunities to have so much talent, it was a pleasure to train them.

New London's Carter Allen takes the lead at first base keeping a close eye on the pitcher in the Tigers' 5-0 win over the Nikes.

“It’s always been that way,” said Bailey, who pitches and plays corner outfield positions. “I think it started with youth basketball, to be honest. Our youth basketball team was pretty good. That’s where we really got motivated to play sports. It was a tight team. Our whole class bonded with that and we became quite competitive athletes.

After:New London rout Moravia to win return trip to state baseball tournament

New London has more than paid its dues. The Tigers have worked hard over the years, going way beyond a normal practice day. They worked hard and tirelessly behind the scenes to become the best players and teams possible.

New London first base coach Flowers gives Seth Bailey a good job after Bailey advances the runner in the Class 1A Understate Championship game at Ottumwa.  The Tigers beat Moravia, 11-1, and clinched their ticket to the state tournament.

Now the Tigers are reaping what they have sown.

“They’re here when the snow is on the ground,” Helmerson said. “I’ve seen them here when it’s so cold you can’t even really be outside, but they find a way to get it done for half an hour here and there. The weight room helped a lot too. I hope they can send that message that it just doesn’t happen by coming to practice. No matter the sport, the weight room has to happen. They are good leaders. I hope they send that message and challenge these young children.

While many teams show up an hour before the game, warm up, play and go home, New London put in a lot more work. The Tigers are in the batting cages three hours before game time, an hour before Helmerson or assistant coach Justin Schulte shows up.

After games, the Tigers stay to help work the field. It’s something they’re proud of.

New London's Josh Catala scores a hit for the Tigers in their Class 1A District Semi-Final victory over Beijing on Tuesday in New London.

“A lot of us come before practice, after practice or in our free time,” Gibbar said. “We’re going to come in and hit or go hit some ground balls or do something to improve. Like in the offseason, me and Koop worked pretty much every day together. It’s not just me and Koop Almost all of us do this, which has led to our success.

“Practice makes perfect, so that’s what we do,” said Kooper Schulte. “”We are here seven days a week. We don’t stop during the season.

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“Lots of hard work,” Allen said. “I feel like we’re all friends. Just a great group of people to be around. We’re also a very competitive group.

The missing piece of the puzzle four years ago when Justin Schulte came on board as assistant coach. Schulte comes from Norway, one of the most storied baseball programs in Iowa high school history. He took the Southeastern Community College baseball team to several national tournaments.

New London senior Carter Allen catches the ball in an attempt to put the runner out at first base.

When it comes to baseball, few are more competent than Schulte.

“The game is the same. Baseball is baseball,” Schulte said. “Winning games, there are certain things you have to do. You have to play good defense. You must launch strikes. You must be good at bats. This team has done all three for the past three years. I don’t train a ton different. We believe in a lot of the same things here as I do at Southeastern. Winning at baseball is winning at baseball. There are certain things you have to do every day to be a good baseball team.”

Next week, the Seniors Together race in New London will come to an end. Win or lose, they put New London on the map and established a baseball tradition that will last for generations to come.

New London wide receiver Tucker Gibbar celebrates the Tigers' 11-1 win over Moravia in a Class 1A substate final on Tuesday at Ottumwa.

“It was fun,” Helmerson said. “You get a group that comes to work like these kids do, it’s special. We practice a lot and we practice a long time. They never mind that. They just do it. I hope that translates into more other programs in New London. That’s all I want is to see a New London program succeed in any sport.

“We try to pass it on to the younger generation,” Allen said. “We have all the hard-working first-year students here. They’re going to take our places when we leave. It’s great to try to set a standard and hope that this standard holds in the future.

“Forget baseball,” Coach Schulte said. “They’re just quality kids. They’ve become good leaders, which is really what you want to develop, more than baseball. They’ve done a good job as a leader. It’s fun to see the children grow up.”

Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, which has covered local sports for 31 years. Contact him at [email protected]