The whirlwind finish to the area high school baseball season is over, and it was a rush.

So, what about 2020?

Other than it being another year in the election cycle, that will depend on which coach you ask. Some may tell you "we don't rebuild, we reload." Others seem to have their best days ahead of them. Few fall in between.

"It's been a very positive year for us," said Ottumwa coach John Jaeger, whose team loses just four seniors from a 20-win team, according to the team's QuikStats roster. "Plus, we have more kids coming up. It's going to be a dogfight for positions, and that makes things more competitive. As a coach, that's what you like."

Indeed, the Bulldogs accomplished plenty after losing a dozen seniors, most position players and most of the pitching staff from last year's CIML Metro championship team that won 26 games. Ottumwa may have won fewer games this year with a younger group, but its wins were better quality; they split with a good Marshalltown team on the road, and took a game from a top-five Des Moines Roosevelt team late in the season.

The Bulldogs will go into next season working from a position of depth and experience, especially since they will return three second-team all-district players. Time will tell if that will be enough to return to the top of the Metro and beyond.

The area's state qualifier this year, Pekin, won't go into next season unscathed despite losing just five seniors. Sometimes, it's not the quantity of players, but the quality of them. In the Panthers' case, they graduate three all-district performers, including both first-team selections in Class 1A.

Still, coach Curtis Reighard got a lot of mileage out of his upperclassmen this year, as they helped deliver the school's first trip to Principal Park. Reighard will miss the togetherness of this group, however.

"I've had good teams at Pekin that were better than this one that didn't get along," he said following the team's loss to No. 1 Mason City Newman in a state quarterfinal game. "These guys really love each other. They take care of each other, and that's what got us here. Our seniors did well for us."

While Pekin will lose three position players, sophomore pitcher Brady Latcham, another all-district player, figures to be an ace for the staff for the next couple seasons even though he took the loss in the state tournament game. Also, Pekin will have to figure out how to replace the great bats at the top of the lineup.

Two teams that figure to have some work ahead are Fairfield and EBF. The Trojans, who fell a run short of qualifying for the Class 3A state tournament in a loss to Davenport Assumption, are losing nine seniors from this team. They will lose all-district players Kosta Papazoglou and Austin Simpson, and will need to replace eight positions on the diamond.

It's not an easy task, but coach Josh Allison believes there is enough tradition to overcome the largest exodus of seniors in his 16-year tenure.

"Every step of the way was a great journey with these guys," he said following the loss to Assumption. "They legacy of expectations they leave is big. What made this group special was just their togetherness, and doing everything together as a class. Just the way they competed.

"But we have guys who work hard and we've told them they're going to have to step in," he said. "They need to work in the offseason and be ready to win games when they get here."

EBF will lose 10 seniors, the most of any area school, and the Rockets will need to replace four infield spots and an outfield spot from a team that won 21 games. The senior group was the first to improve on its record three years in a row, win at least one postseason game three straight years and boast three straight top-three South Central Conference finishes. Still, ace pitcher Jared McCrea could improve on his all-district sophomore campaign and be the backbone of the pitching staff.

Davis County, which won 17 games, also figures to see some new faces going into next season as eight seniors graduate. The Mustangs will need to replace all three outfield spots and four infield positions, including all-district selection Trevor Slayton, who was arguably the Mustangs' best fielder and pitcher.

Van Buren graduates five seniors, many of whom played at least three positions throughout the season. One of those was Caleb Stoltz, who saw time in right field, second base, third base, left field and designated hitter.

Cardinal and Albia both appear to be in line for improvement. The Comets, who won 14 games, lose senior second baseman Cameron Honomichl who, like Simpson, will play college baseball at Southeastern Community College, and first baseman Braden Ridgway also graduates. Otherwise, the Comets have several talented and athletic players who are prime to take another step in their development.

Albia may have won only eight games, but the Blue Demons would appear to be headed in a upward direction. Pitcher Edison Goodlow will be difficult to replace, as will veterans Nathan Crall and Gage Wilson. Still, the Blue Demons relied on several sophomores who could take that next step next season.

Note: Information regarding seniors on rosters was taken from QuikStats.

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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