Nobody has been more associated with the Ankeny baseball program than Mel Murken.
Murken coached the Hawks for 32 years and racked up 620 victories at the school. He’s a member of the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
In 1992, Murken guided Ankeny to the first state championship in school history. Two of the stars on that team, Benj Sampson and Todd Sears, eventually reached the major leagues and have joined Murken in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame.
“I knew that they were going to be big-time players the first time I saw them,” Murken said of the duo. “I didn’t know they’d end up being pros, but even when they were freshmen and sophomores I saw a lot of potential there. It didn’t surprise me when they got drafted.”
Earlier this week, Ankeny Fanatic announced the first two installments of its all-time Ankeny baseball team. Now, it’s time to unveil the first team.
Sampson and Sears are the headliners of this elite squad. Here, then, are the best 12 players ever produced by the city of Ankeny:
Benj Sampson, SP: He was a hard-throwing lefty who led Ankeny to a state title as a junior in 1992, compiling a 0.74 ERA and racking up a school-record 134 strikeouts in just 76 innings. He had a 6-4 record, including a two-hitter in a 6-2 win over top-seeded Dowling Catholic in the Class 4A semifinals. He then came back two days later to earn a save in the championship game against Iowa City High by striking out Scott Dawson for the final out in the seventh inning, preserving the Hawks’ 9-8 victory. He was also a potent hitter, batting .300 with five homers and 28 RBIs. He was named to the all-state first team. “We had such a great group of guys on that team,” Sampson said. “Many of us had been playing either together or against each other since we were 10 years old in Little League. The ability of so many of our players to play a variety of positions and the guys that stepped up down the stretch were incredible.” As a senior, Sampson went 5-0 with a 0.48 ERA before leaving midway through the season to pursue a professional career with the Minnesota Twins, who selected him in the sixth round of the 1993 MLB amateur draft. Before he left, Sampson tossed a two-hitter with a career-high 17 strikeouts in a 4-1 victory over Urbandale. Ten days later, he tossed a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts in a 9-0 win over Valley. He also batted .400 and hit five homers in the first 22 games before embarking on his pro career. He gradually worked his way up through the minor leagues before being promoted to Minnesota late in the 1998 season. He then spent most of the 1999 season with the Twins before injuries forced him to start over again in Class A ball. He appeared in 35 major league games, compiling a 4-2 record with a 6.83 ERA in 88 1/3 innings. He later played in Taiwan and Italy before ending his 13-year pro career. Now, nearly 30 years later, one of Sampson’s favorite memories remains the 1992 championship game. “A couple of our younger siblings were batboys on that team and with two outs in the last inning of what was really an ugly game, coach Murken called me in from right field to close it out,” Sampson said. “Normally when this would happen he would bring my pitcher’s glove to the mound and take my outfield glove back to the dugout with him. But that night he must have gotten a little distracted by all of the craziness of the last inning and he left my other glove in the dugout. So as I warmed up, my younger brother J.T.–who was 12 at the time–ran out to the mound with my glove. I remember he had this big grin on his face and as I made the switch with him and my hands were shaking with anxious energy, I looked at him and I said something about being nervous for such a big moment. I remember he punched my arm and said, ‘C’mon man, you got this. No problem!’ It made me smile and catch my breath just enough to deflect the pressure off of me in that moment. Within about 2 minutes we were all dogpiling on the field and it seemed like the whole town was out there with us celebrating. That was always my favorite memory from the tournament.” In 2006, he was ranked No. 7 on the Ankeny Register & Press Citizen’s list of the 50 greatest athletes in Ankeny High School history. In 2017, Sampson was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame. Let’s make him the co-captain of our all-time team.
Keaton McKinney, SP: He was a hard-throwing righty who emerged as a future star in 2011, when he compiled a 4-2 record with a 2.00 ERA as a freshman while also batting .295 with four homers and 28 RBIs. In 2012, he batted .406 with three homers and tied for the team lead in doubles (14) and RBIs (51) as Ankeny won the Class 4A crown and finished with a 43-2 record, the most wins for the state’s largest class since the four-class system started in 1982. On the mound, he went 7-0 with a 1.75 ERA and tossed a complete game in the Hawks’ 8-4 win over Valley in the Class 4A semifinals. He was a first-team all-conference pick. “My favorite memory was winning a state championship,” said McKinney. “After following my brother (Kalvin Johnson) around the diamonds and being the batboy for the 2005 team, I knew how hard it was to do and for us to do it how we did (a 10-0 victory over Fort Dodge in six innings) was a testament to the depth and team we had that year.” As a junior, he went 8-0 with a 0.61 ERA, allowing only five earned runs all season as Ankeny again qualified for state. He tossed four shutouts and led the Hawks with 67 strikeouts. He threw a one-hitter with seven strikeouts to beat Fort Dodge, 1-0, in the substate final. At the plate, he batted .392 with eight homers and 39 RBIs. He was named to the all-state first team. After the season, he played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic–which featured 50 of the nation’s top high school players–and was the winning pitcher. He also earned a spot on Team USA’s 18-and-under squad that competed in the International Baseball Federation World Cup in Taiwan. He was the 2013 Gatorade Iowa player of the year. He then moved across town to Ankeny Centennial for his senior season in 2014, but he played in just six games before suffering a broken finger during a game at Waukee. McKinney, who was selected by the New York Mets in the 28th round of the MLB amateur draft just two days earlier, went on to miss the rest of the season. He made just two appearances on the mound, going 1-0 with a 1.11 ERA. He batted .385 with one homer–a walk-off, two-run blast to beat Johnston. Ranked as the 37th-best recruit nationally and the No. 1 recruit in the state of Iowa according to Perfect Game, McKinney went on to play for Arkansas, where he was named to the all-SEC freshman team after going 5-0 in conference play with a 2.90 ERA in 2015. He tied for fourth in school history and set the freshman record with 18 games started on the year. He appeared to be on a path to the major leagues before injuries eventually derailed his career. “I coached his older brother, and Keaton was a great batboy for me,” joked Brad Rose, who coached the Hawks from 2001-03. “Obviously, he had one of the best arms ever at Ankeny.”
Jeff Lanning, C: He was a four-year starter and a key figure on some of the best teams in Ankeny’s history. He batted .410 with four home runs and 29 RBIs as a freshman in 2002, earning second-team all-conference honors. As a sophomore, he batted .379 with five homers and 25 RBIs. He homered twice in a 10-9 loss to Indianola and later reached base in all 12 of his postseason at-bats as the Hawks reached the substate final. He was a unanimous pick to the all-conference first team. “He was one of the top four all-around athletes I have ever coached,” said Rose. In 2004, he batted .383 with five homers and 32 RBIs as Ankeny reached the Class 4A semifinals before losing to Des Moines Lincoln, 11-2. He was a second-team all-state pick. As a senior, Lanning led the team with 14 homers and a .496 average as the Hawks placed second in Class 4A, dropping an 8-6 decision to Valley in the title game. Ankeny hit a school-record 67 homers as a team, the second-highest total in state history. He also knocked in 49 runs and was named to the all-state super team. “My fondest memories of high school ball wasn’t even the baseball,” Lanning said. “It was the bus rides home when we would sweep a team and sing songs all the way back to the school. Our favorite was ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks. I get the chills just thinking about it. I also loved our coaching duo of Mark Hey and Ben Buchan. Mark was chill and Ben was fiery. Ben had so many baseball sayings that would make you laugh. We had some great teams!” Lanning, who was also an all-state linebacker and a two-time state track champion in the 4×400 relay, was ranked No. 45 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list. He played two seasons at Nebraska and was part of two NCAA Regional teams before transferring to the University of New Orleans, where he batted .369 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs in his junior season with the Privateers. He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the eighth round of the MLB draft in 2008. He spent four years in the minor leagues, batting .254 with 19 homers and 80 RBIs in 178 games with the Twins’ and Philadelphia Phillies’ organizations. He played one season with the New Jersey Jackals of the Independent Frontier League in 2012 before retiring.
Todd Sears, 1B: He led Ankeny to three straight state tournaments from 1992-94. After helping the Hawks to a state title as a sophomore, he led the team to a runner-up finish in 1993 when he won the CIML Triple Crown with a .504 batting average, 13 home runs and 58 RBIs. All three marks set new school records at the time. “That was a big year for me personally as far as putting up some good numbers,” Sears said. As a senior, he captured the CIML National Conference batting title with a .512 average, breaking his own school record. He also led the league with 47 RBIs and was second in homers with 10. He earned first-team all-state honors for the second straight year and was named the captain of the Class 4A squad by the Iowa Newspaper Association. “He was most likely the best all-around male athlete in school history,” Rose said. “He was by far the best hitter.” A sweet-swinging lefty at the plate, Sears was also a righthanded pitcher for the Hawks and was versatile enough to play second base as well, which he did early in his career. He went on to play for Nebraska, where he earned third-team all-American honors in 1997, batting .421 with 17 homers and 79 RBIs in 62 games. Sears was selected in the third round of the 1997 MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies, and he eventually spent parts of two seasons in the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres. He appeared in 33 games, batting .247 with two homers and 11 RBIs. His first MLB home run came off of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. “Playing baseball for Ankeny was by far the most fun I had playing from Little League, high school, college, and professionally,” Sears said. “We had a great group of guys, and had some really good players and teams. Making it to the state tournament three years in a row was a huge accomplishment, in addition to winning a state championship which added together was an amazing experience!” Sears was also an all-state basketball player at Ankeny who could have played that sport at the Division I level. He is a member of the Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in that sport as well, and he was earlier named to Ankeny Fanatic’s all-time Ankeny boys’ basketball team. He was ranked No. 4 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list. At the time, one of his former basketball teammates, Andy Schreurs, called Sears the best basketball and baseball player in school history. “Think about that for a second, a school the size of Ankeny with its tradition of athletic excellence, and this guy is the best that ever played in two of the three most popular sports,” Schreurs said. “That is simply amazing. I feel honored to say that I played alongside him.” And it was an honor for me to cover his career. Let’s make Sears the co-captain of the team along with Sampson, his former teammate. “Having two players drafted off of the same Iowa high school team is not something that happens often, and to be a part of that was a neat experience,” Sears said.
John Einertson, 2B: He was a first-team all-stater on Ankeny’s state championship team in 1992. After transferring from Urbandale prior to his senior year, he started the season at second base, but was forced into a designated hitter’s role due to a shoulder injury. “Einertson made a difference for us,” Murken said. “He couldn’t even throw the ball from second base. It was a pretty serious injury.” However, the injury didn’t affect him at the plate, where he won the CIML batting title with a .470 average. He also led the Hawks with 71 hits, 57 runs, 18 doubles, 10 home runs, 39 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. Einertson hit a two-run homer and also scored the winning run in the title game against Iowa City High. Earlier in the season, he hit three consecutive homers during a game at Des Moines North. “He hit one to left field, one to center and one to right,” Murken said. “I’ll never forget that. It was pretty amazing.” At the time, Murken said Einertson was a leader by example. “He got real frustrated with himself early in the season, but he didn’t get down in the dumps even when he realized that he couldn’t play in the field. He just started to concentrate on his hitting, and that’s when he really got rolling.” Einertson’s brother, Darrell, was a star at Urbandale who went on to play for the New York Yankees in 2000. “They were both really good players,” Rose said. “I coached against them.”
Dick Fontana, SS: The late Fontana is the oldest member of the all-time team; he was a four-year starter at Ankeny from 1945-48. He was primarily a shortstop, but also pitched and played third base. He was a three-time first-team all-conference selection. (Back then, there were no all-state teams for baseball.) Although his high school teams never reached the state tournament, he also played American Legion ball for two teams that won state titles. Fontana went on to Drake University to play both baseball and basketball before signing a contract with the Cincinnati Reds when he was still a teenager. He played rookie ball for the Class B team in Ogden, Utah before eventually returning to Ankeny, where he played semi-pro ball for the Slater Nite Hawks for several years. Fontana then switched to fastpitch softball, playing that sport for many years. “The traveling for baseball got to be too much because the teams that played were too spread out, so that’s when we started playing softball,” said Ron Fontana, Dick’s brother. Both Dick and Ron were later inducted into the Des Moines Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame. Dick was ranked No. 21 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list.
Jason Loutsch, 3B: He was another key player on Ankeny’s state championship team in 1992. He batted .320 with nine doubles and 24 RBIs, and he went 9-3 on the mound with a 1.52 ERA. He was the winning pitcher in the championship game against Iowa City High, hurling three innings in relief before Sampson came in to get the final out. “The expectations were off the charts that year,” Loutsch said. “We had a very talented team, but we started out really bad. We were like a .500 team halfway through the season. It was very frustrating. But one of the things that really sticks out to me is that you’ve got to be lucky to win a state championship. I remember pitching in the substate final up at Carroll to go to state, and in the bottom of the eighth inning this guy (from Sioux City West) lined one off of me. But we had Todd Sears of all people playing second base, and if anybody but Todd had been there the game would have been over. But Todd is 6-7, and he catches this line drive to save the game and we go on to win in nine innings. I’m glad Mel put Todd at second base because nobody else would have caught the ball.” Then, as a senior, Loutsch helped the Hawks to a 32-6 record and a runner-up finish in Class 4A after Sampson left the team midway through the season. He compiled an 8-0 record with a 1.50 ERA. In the Class 4A semifinals, Loutsch tossed a three-hitter and had six strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy, his third shutout of the season. He also had Ankeny’s only two hits in that game, including an RBI single. The Hawks then lost in the final, 8-1, as Council Bluffs Jefferson’s Tom Giles–who had been drafted by the Florida Marlins–tossed a one-hitter and tied a title-game record with 15 strikeouts. “You play Friday and Saturday at state, but we got rained out on Saturday,” Loutsch said. “That allowed (Giles) to come back and pitch on Monday. He was just dominant. We couldn’t hit him. I still think if we hadn’t been rained out that we’d have won back-to-back championships. That was just unfortunate for us.” Loutsch batted .331 with three homers, seven doubles and 29 RBIs. He was named to the all-state first team as a utility player, and he received the Golden Diamond Award as the Iowa Player of the Year. “I only saw him play, but he was very competitive,” Rose said. “He hated to lose.” Loutsch was also an all-state linebacker on the football field and an all-conference forward in basketball. He was ranked No. 41 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list. “Jason was not the best at any one sport, but when you combine his overall achievements across three different sports it is pretty amazing stuff,” said Schreurs, his former basketball teammate. Loutsch is now a prominent businessman who owns Ankeny Fanatic.
Brody Brecht, OF: Currently a senior at Ankeny High School, Brecht is a rare prospect who is considered a five-tool player–possessing a combination of hitting, power, speed, defense and arm. As a freshman, he earned a starting spot as an outfielder in 2018, when he batted .316 with three homers and 21 RBIs. As a sophomore, he batted .371 with three homers and 30 RBIs while leading the Hawks to their first state tournament berth since 2013. He also developed into one of the state’s top pitchers, compiling a 6-3 mark with a 2.46 ERA and 70 strikeouts. In a 1-0 win over top-ranked Johnston, he recorded 11 strikeouts over the first 6 1/3 innings. He later threw a four-inning no-hitter with nine strikeouts as Ankeny routed Des Moines Roosevelt, 16-0, in the substate final. He was a unanimous pick to the all-conference first team. Brecht was named a preseason all-American in 2020 before his junior season. He then went on to lead Ankeny to a runner-up finish in Class 4A. He batted .333 with three homers and 27 RBIs, and he went 4-0 on the mound with a 2.45 ERA and 69 strikeouts. In the Class 4A quarterfinals, he relied on his 98-mph fastball to record 16 strikeouts in a win over Pleasant Valley, which ranks fifth all-time in state tournament history. “My favorite memory was that game,” Brecht said. “Just the atmosphere and how competitive of a game it was.” He was selected to the all-state first team. Brecht is off to a great start this season, posting a 4-0 record with a 1.20 ERA and racking up 47 strikeouts in just 23 1/3 innings of work. At the plate, he is batting .443 with one homer, eight doubles and 17 RBIs. Brecht is also an all-state wide receiver who helped Ankeny to a state football title last fall. He is planning to play both sports at Iowa, but his future plans could change if he is selected in the first few rounds of the MLB amateur draft in July. He is currently listed as the 77th-best prospect in this year’s draft by MLBPipeline. “I tell Brody that I want him to do what he wants to do,” said Ankeny coach Joe Balvanz. “He has a lot of options right now on the table. He’s going to have a difficult choice to make come July.”
Joe Ferin, OF: He was a potent hitter from the left side of the plate, putting fear into opposing pitchers despite his 5-foot-10 frame. As a junior in 1997, he set a school record with 59 RBIs while leading Ankeny to a 27-15 record. He batted .396 with 10 homers, three triples and 15 doubles. In a 3-2 win over Des Moines East, he homered twice and drove in all three of his team’s runs. He later hit a two-run blast in a victory over Mason City, allowing him to break the RBI record previously held by Sears. He earned second-team all-conference honors. In 1998, the Hawks went just 4-7 to open the season while Ferin missed the first 11 games, but after he returned to the lineup the team won 22 of its last 30 games. He won the CIML batting title with a .568 average, which also broke the school record. He had five homers and 37 RBIs while leading the team with 47 runs and 15 stolen bases. “He was a great hitter and a great outfielder,” Murken said. “I loved coaching Joe Ferin. He was my kind of player.” He was a unanimous pick to the all-conference first team and was selected to the all-state first team. “He was the most underrated, fly-under-the-radar guy,” Rose said. “But he was a stud.” After the season, Ferin was selected to play on an Iowa all-star team coached by Urbandale’s Denny Barton that traveled to Japan to play several games. “That’s what I remember best,” Ferin said. “We got to travel there and play five different area Japanese teams over the course of two weeks while staying with Japanese host families.” Ferin went on to play for Iowa State before transferring to Texas when the Cyclones dropped their baseball program. He helped the Longhorns to a national championship in 2002. As a senior in 2003, he batted .307 with four homers and 30 RBIs.
Aaron Jarosh, OF: He was one of the most electrifying players in Ankeny’s history, capable of beating opponents with either his speed or his power. He earned a starting spot as a freshman in 2003, batting .241 with 10 stolen bases in Rose’s third and final season with the program. “He was another really good complete athlete,” Rose said. “He was a 23-foot long jumper. Baseball might not even have been his best sport.” He then developed into a star as a sophomore, when he batted .392 with 11 homers, 33 RBIs and 13 stolen bases under Hey–who guided the team to the Class 4A semifinals. In 2005, Jarosh batted .376 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs as Ankeny earned a runner-up finish in Class 4A. He had three of his homers in a 12-1 victory over Johnston in a substate final. “That was probably my most memorable individual moment,” Jarosh said. “A lot of what made playing on the 2005 team memorable was being around a lot of talented individuals. Not only were they a lot of fun to play with, but we also set a lot of the individual, team and career records as a group.” He led the team with six triples, 23 stolen bases and 67 runs scored. He was a second-team all-state pick. Then, as a senior, he was a preseason all-American. He battled some injuries throughout the season and batted .373 with just two homers and 17 RBIs, but he was still named to the all-state first team and was a first-team all-conference selection for the third straight year. Jarosh helped the Hawks to a 123-47 record from 2003-06. He finished his career with six school records. Also a four-year starter in football and a state long jump champion in 2005, he was ranked No. 23 on the Press Citizen’s greatest athletes list. He started his college career at Nebraska before transferring to Muscatine Community College, then eventually moved on to Arkansas-Little Rock.
Matt Johnson, U: He was a versatile player who excelled at multiple positions, but was primarily a pitcher and third baseman who also did a lot of damage with his bat. As a sophomore at Ankeny in 2011, he batted .305 with three homers and 23 RBIs. On the mound, he went 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA. He homered twice in a 13-0 victory at Urbandale while also tossing a two-hitter for one of his two shutouts. As a junior, he led the team with a .438 average, 13 home runs and an .867 slugging percentage as the Hawks captured the Class 4A title. He tied for the team lead in hits (56), doubles (14) and RBIs (51). On the mound, Johnson went 7-1 with a 1.52 ERA. He tossed a no-hitter in a 2-1 victory over Johnston, then later threw a two-hit shutout in the championship game against Fort Dodge. In 2013, he batted .355 with six homers, 14 doubles and 43 RBIs. On the mound, he went 6-0 with a 1.83 ERA. He hit a walk-off single to beat Waukee, 5-4, in the first game of a doubleheader, then tossed a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in the nightcap to help the Hawks to the CIC Eastern Division title. He was a repeat pick to the all-state first team. Johnson went on to play for South Dakota State, where he batted .325 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs as a senior in 2017.
Todd Vogel, RP: The righthander won 23 games for Ankeny from 2003-05, serving as the team’s ace in each of his final two seasons. He went 3-4 with a 3.44 ERA as a sophomore, when he also batted .297 and led the Hawks with 14 doubles. “He was the best person I ever coached,” said Rose. “There was not a nicer, more team-oriented guy than Todd.” In 2004, he enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history on the mound, posting an 11-0 record with a 1.15 ERA and 72 strikeouts. Opposing hitters batted only .178 against Vogel, who recorded three shutouts and threw three consecutive complete games during postseason play, including a one-hitter in a 7-0 victory over Fort Dodge in a Class 4A substate semifinal. The Hawks reached the Class 4A semifinals, then earned a second-place finish in Class 4A in 2005, when Vogel went 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 114 strikeouts. At the plate, he batted .307 with 37 RBIs and had 10 home runs–five of them during one three-game stretch. He was named to the all-state super team and was also a two-time first-team all-state pick. Vogel went on to play for Kansas State, where he appeared in 54 games for the Wildcats from 2006-09 and compiled an 8-4 record with a 5.60 ERA.