Prep softball: Bulldogs arrive in Fort Dodge

Ottumwa High School softball teammates (from left to right) Kaylee Bix, Hannah Huisinga and Madelyn Jones got a look at the enlarged Class 5A state tournament bracket that is on display for fans to view during the course of the 2019 Iowa High School State Softball tournament. Bulldog softball players and coaches took in the sights and sounds at the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex on Monday after making the journey to Fort Dodge, where the Bulldogs will compete in the Class 5A state softball tournament for the first time in six years on Tuesday facing Waukee. First pitch on Kruger Seeds Field is set for 5 p.m.

FORT DODGE — Opinions varied on Monday evening.

"These stands are huge," Hannah Huisinga said. "This is nothing like a regular softball game. This is the real deal.

"It's nerve-racking," Madelyn Jones added.

"It's very intimidating," Abby Bowers mentioned. "The field is very big. There are a lot of people."

Huisinga, Jones and Bowers were just three of many Ottumwa Bulldogs softball players to get a first-time, first-hand look on Monday of the Harlan Rogers Sports Complex. Ottumwa completed a day that began with an escort out of town by the fire department and ended with OHS players taking in the first two Class 3A state quarterfinals played on Monday night with Davenport Assumption facing Algona and Albia facing Waterloo Columbus Catholic.

After taking in the site of the Iowa High School State Softball Tournament as fans, Ottumwa will be back Tuesday as competitors. The Bulldogs (33-7) take on top-ranked Waukee (38-3) in the first of four 5A state quarterfinals. First pitch is scheduled at Kruger Seeds Field for 5 p.m.

"They needed to see the atmosphere and the lay out of the place," said Frank Huston, who is making his 28th trip to the state tournament as head coach of the Ottumwa softball program. "One thing I feel confident in is, once the game starts, the game is still played within the same dimensions."

While the game itself will be played on a field no bigger or smaller than Huston Field back in Ottumwa, the surroundings of Kruger Seeds Field certainly had the Bulldogs attention on Monday. Delaney Stevens and Morgan Greiner both got an earlier glimpse of the state tournament atmosphere having attended the Class 3A, 4A and 5A title games last summer as spectators.

"It was so packed. There were so many people here," Stevens said. "There actually were not as many people here (Monday) as there were last year."

Bowers, who along with Sydney Schlarbaum will be making their final appearances as Ottumwa athletes at the state softball tournament, talked about an even bigger crowd to play in front of Tuesday.

"I hope we have a big crowd, but it is nerve-racking because we want to perform well."

Ottumwa players soaked in the atmosphere, walking around both diamonds at Harlan Rogers Park while even getting state tournament T-shirts. The Bulldogs had plenty of smiles, even if there were butterflies floating within each player.

"It's pretty amazing, but it's also pretty scary," Bowers said. "It's pretty important to get a feel for everything and get settled in before that first pitch is thrown."

The Bulldogs had a busy day traveling to Fort Dodge. Besides stopping for a practice at Roland-Story, coached by former Ottumwa state champion Amber Doyle, Ottumwa started the day being supported on their way out of town by an entourage that included a fire engine escort to the city limits and several students at Eisenhower Elementary school waving their support to the Bulldogs as the team bus rolled by.

"That was pretty cool. I don't think any of us expected it," Bowers said. "There were a bunch of people out to show us they're supporting us."

One Bulldog player, however, was a little disappointed.

"I was excited to ride the fire engine out of town," Jillian Heaton joked. "Delaney told me that was the plan. I was all for that.

"I thought they'd at least put the sirens on the whole way out of town," Bowers added. "It was still pretty cool." 

Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.