OTTUMWA — Just three wins.
That’s all the Ottumwa softball players need to do to make a permanent imprint in the softball program’s storied history. Just three victories to become a distinct part of Ottumwa sports lore. Not four or five or six — just three.
And why bet against them? They’ve got the bats, the arms, the fielders. Whose to say they can’t get the job done this week in Fort Dodge? The girls have already beaten top-ranked Ankeny and sixth-ranked Des Moines East, so they have proven they can not only play with, but beat top-tier opponents.
Of course, if they don’t add another championship to the softball program’s large edifice of accomplishments, it will not take away from the other successes that have helped define the eight-ranked Bulldogs this season.
The girls, to some extent, have already written themselves a great story this season. They have, after all, won 34 games. And a handful of these wins came against top-flight competition.
So is the pressure off? Now that they have made it to state, can the girls breathe a sigh of relief and play unburdened by the weight of high expectations? Well, not exactly.
“I feel like the first game is a little bit of pressure, but most of the pressure is already over because we already made it [to state],” Bulldog cleanup hitter Katie Sammons said.
Ottumwa’s Olivia Roark didn’t see an ease in the tension.
“I still think there is a lot of pressure,” she said minutes before practice on a Sunday evening still thick with humidity. “We still need to win, you know.”
So there you have it. The Bulldogs are apparently not satisfied with making it state. They are heading to Fort Dodge with the intent of winning. They are ostensibly well aware that they are only three wins away from making history. Just three wins. Sure, the competition will be stiff and the margin for error will be slim, but still, just three wins.
“We don’t want to stop now,” Roark said. “We’ve got to keep going.”
One defining characteristic of this Ottumwa team is its resiliency. Sure, there have been setbacks. A pair of painful home losses to Des Moines Lincoln, getting swept by the Scarlets on the road, failing to repeat as conference champions, getting blown out by Valley in a disappointing regular season finale.
There have been hitting slumps, rough pitching outings, and the rare, yet, ill-timed error. But every time the Bulldogs have suffered these painful, yet inevitable pitfalls that occur during the course of a season, they have bounced back with renewed vigor and vitality.
Unfortunately, however, Ottumwa can’t afford to have an off-day this week. Because this time there won’t be any instant shots at redemption. The girls, well, at least the non-seniors, which is the majority; would have to wait until next season for a chance to exorcise their demons.
So, what, if anything, was the difference between say the Bulldog’s home losses to Des Moines Lincoln and their sweep of Des Moines East? What intangibles were essential factors in Ottumwa’s big victories, and what flaws were exploited in its disappointing defeats?
“I think we mainly have to play as a team and work together because when we work together everything clicks,” Sammons said. “I think when we’re loud and when we’re cheering on each other it helps a lot.”
“We had a lot of enthusiasm in most of the games we needed to win,” Roark added. “Against Waukee we had a lot of enthusiasm.”
Hopefully, that enthusiasm will be at the forefront when Ottumwa takes on ninth-ranked Iowa City West Tuesday at Fort Dodge.
After all, the Bulldogs only need three wins.