Brace yourselves, baseball fans. Things are starting to heat up.
Although it seems like the summer just started, the journey to the state baseball tournament will soon be underway. Class 1A and Class 2A postseason starts on July 10.
And all roads lead to Merchant Park in Carroll.
Will Newman Catholic get back to its 14th-consecutive state tournament? Will any other North Iowa teams make their way out of the bracket? What area teams potentially square off?
The matchups are set, and baseball fans are ready.
Class 2A, District 6
Area teams: Osage, Central Springs, Forest City and Garner-Hayfield-Ventura
This district features a heavy dose of North Iowa teams. Osage and Central Springs each have a first-round game, while Garner-Hayfield-Ventura (GHV) and Forest City earned first-round byes.
Osage will take on Crestwood at New Hampton in the first round, with a trip to Garner hanging in the balance. The Green Devils have played a tough schedule and sit right in the middle of the Top of Iowa East standings. Ten of Osage's games have been decided by two runs or less, so the Green Devils have no shortage of close game experience, which should be a benefit.
Central Springs plays New Hampton in the first round. The winner will take on Forest City in the next round. The Panthers finished with a conference record of 5-10 and struggled in stretches during the season. While Central Springs does have five players batting over .300, defense and pitching will be the key to the Panthers' success in the postseason.
Forest City finished near the top of the Top of Iowa West standings, but challenged itself with a tough non-conference schedule. Led by the Moore family and Truman Knudtson, the Indians have a solid lineup of hitters who have faced strong pitchers. Forest City has put together a handful of solid wins last week and may be peaking at the right time. The Indians could be on a crash course to the district championship against another team sitting near the top of the Top of Iowa West – GHV.
After a loss to Forest City in the season-opener, in which the Cardinals were without a handful of starters due to postseason soccer, GHV has since been one of the best teams in the area. Brody Boehnke has been one of the top hitters in the state, boasting a batting average over .550. As the Cardinals are batting nearly .350 as a team, the strength of the team is its hitting. If Jack Ermer and Sam Wood can continue strong pitching in the playoffs, GHV could be a sneaky threat to top-ranked Roland-Story on the other side of the Substate 3 bracket.
Class 1A, District 2
Area team: West Hancock
The West Hancock baseball team takes on West Bend-Mallard at the Newell Fonda baseball field in the first round. The Eagles finished with a final Top of Iowa West record of 4-10 and will look to advance past the Wolverines in the first round, who hold a similar record. West Hancock will need to play clean to advance.
Class 1A, District 3
Area teams: Newman Catholic, Lake Mills, West Fork, Rockford and Northwood-Kensett
Five area teams headline this district. As there are no first round byes, all teams will play on July 10.
Northwood-Kensett will take on North Iowa in Sheffield in the first round. The Vikings finished fourth in the Top of Iowa East, but lost to North Iowa, 10-4, in a matchup on June 15 this season. The Vikings managed to score one run in four different innings in that contest. Getting more production out of the bottom of its lineup would be a benefit in the postseason for Northwood-Kensett.
West Fork and Rockford will feature two Top of Iowa East foes who have plenty of experience against each other. The Warhawks won both of the regular season matchups, but Rockford made things interesting at certain points in both games. If Rockford throws its ace, Kolton Lyman, and West Fork throws its ace, Kellen Cameron, it could turn into a pitcher's dual quickly in Sheffield.
Lake Mills takes on Nashua-Plainfield in Mason City in the first round. The Bulldogs have a young team that's faced many ups and downs this season. Led by the Hanson and Ramaker brothers, the Bulldogs have relied heavily on solid pitching and defense in its wins this season. Lake Mills will need those two facets of the game to be on point this postseason.
On the hunt for another state title, the top-ranked Newman Catholic baseball team takes on North Butler in the postseason opener. The Knights have only lost one game all season, which was to Class 4A Dowling Catholic. Led by Max Burt and Nash Holmgaard at the plate, and a handful of excellent pitchers, the Knights are the heavy favorite to win this district.
Class 1A, District 4
Area teams: St. Ansgar and Riceville
On the other side of the Substate 2 bracket, two Mitchell County teams will make a push for the district title.
Riceville takes on Kee in the first round of the postseason. The Wildcats have a very young lineup, and their inexperience has shown at times throughout the season. Kee boasts a record of over 20 wins, so Riceville will need to play at its best to give the Kee Hawks a run.
St. Ansgar travels to South Winneshiek to take on Turkey Valley in the first round. The Saints have been hot during the past two weeks, which could be a good sign for the postseason. Led by Ryan Cole, the Saints collectively have a batting average near .350. If St. Ansgar plays up to its capabilities, there's a very real chance that the squad escapes District 4 with the title.
Gunnar Davis covers sports. Reach him via email at Gunnar.Davis@GlobeGazette.com or by phone 641-421-0598.