The waiting is over the big boys; the real season begins Friday.
Where it ends up remains to be seen.
Both the Ottumwa and Fairfield high school baseball teams begin their postseason tournament runs with home games. Both would like nothing more to end the season at Principal Park in Des Moines. However, there is plenty of work to be done before then.
"I feel confidence in our kids right now," Ottumwa coach John Jaeger said. "They've worked hard to prepare themselves mentally. Obviously we're very inexperienced when it comes to the postseason, but these kids also don't have the expectations that they have to get so far. They can just go play."
The Bulldogs (20-15) host West Des Moines Valley (15-18) in a Class 4A substate opener at Legion Memorial Field in a rematch of a doubleheader played just nine days ago. The teams split that doubleheader, with Logan Chickering powering the Bulldogs' offense in both games.
Still, the rematch figures to be quite different this time. Both teams held some things back because of the forthcoming matchup, but most of the lineups should still be fairly fluid.
"In baseball, all it takes is for one team to show up and one team not to," Jaeger said. "I think the key for us is going to be making adjustments early in the game. We're going to see good pitching, but we also have to attack that."
Ottumwa's pitching staff doesn't have one dominating starter, but Jaeger had built enough depth on the staff to the point that he's not afraid to mix and match as the game unfolds. While "you always want to get that good start, you have to take about matchups," he said.
"We have guys with some different styles, but we just have so many options," he said. "Plus, we've put them in high-pressure situations."
Jaeger isn't concerned about his team's final-week fade. The Bulldogs were swept by No. 4 Urbandale and No. 5 Des Moines Roosevelt Monday and Tuesday, respectively, but the postseason is a new opportunity, especially with every team in the six-team substate having flaws.
"We faced some really good pitching early in the week, but I thought we competed at a high level," he said. "We've just got to be able to put all of our game together."
Sixth-ranked Dowling Catholic (27-11) is the top seed, but Valley beat the Maroons last week. Iowa City Liberty (22-17) is the second seed, followed by Ottumwa, Valley, Cedar Rapids Washington (11-26) and Ames (8-30).
"What matters is who is ready to play that day," Jaeger said. "I think even the six seed (Ames) has a good chance if it lines up right. I love this because it feels like we do have a shot."
In Class 3A, Fairfield has not struggled all season. The Trojans (24-4) have peaked at the right time and gradually put themselves in the state tournament conversation in beating top-five teams in both Class 1A and 2A. The sixth-ranked Trojans are the No. 2 seed in the substate behind second-ranked Davenport Assumption (28-4).
The key to Fairfield's success has been its offense, particularly with the senior power-hitting trio of Kosta Papazogolou, Austin Simpson and Tristin Waugh at the top of the lineup. The Trojans lead 3A and are second in all classes with 36 home runs, and Simpson continues to extend his single-season school record for homers (14). The powerful offense has been enough to overshadow a pitching staff that has been respectable, though not dominating.
While Fairfield has dominated several foes over the last week and a half and carries a seven-game winning streak into its matchup against Fort Madison at Fairfield Middle School, there are still some potentially tough matchups. Even though the Trojans haven't lost back-to-back games all season, they did share the Southeast Conference title with Mount Pleasant (20-10), a possible district final opponent.
Then, there is a potential substate matchup with Assumption, which eliminated the Trojans in a substate final two years ago by run rule. But with nine seniors, the largest group of seniors in coach Josh Allison's tenure, the time is now for the Trojans to make a big push toward Des Moines.
For Ottumwa, this is a different feel than last year, when it had 12 seniors played their final game in a first-round home upset against Des Moines East.
"We've been getting more and more experience all year long," Jaeger said. "That's going to benefit us, because no one really expects us to do much."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury
Class 4A, Substate 7 first round
West Des Moines Valley (15-18) at Ottumwa (20-15), 7 p.m.
Class 3A, District 10 semifinals
Fort Madison (16-14) at No. 6 Fairfield (24-4), 7 p.m.