Our first pitch

On behalf of our entire staff and the city of Fort Dodge, I’d like to extend an early welcome and belated congratulations to the players, families and fans from communities all across Iowa. For the 49th consecutive year, the state softball tournament at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex is about to begin.

For the next five days, The Messenger will provide comprehensive coverage of the event from the perspective of all 40 qualified teams. Your games are our games in the days to come; your stories are our stories.

An estimated 20,000 supporters will spend time watching the 50 games and five classes of action. Approximately 600 athletes are taking the field in pursuit of 2018 state championships, which will take place on Thursday (6 p.m. for 1A and 8:15 p.m. for 2A) and Friday (3:30 for 3A, 5:45 for 4A, 8 p.m. for 5A) on Buena Vista University Diamond 1.

Fort Dodge Senior High will be in uniform as the host school for the third time in the last four years. The 35-7 Dodgers, who are among the youngest programs in the entire field with just four upperclassmen on their roster, will be 5A’s No. 6 seed on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. when they take on Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the quarterfinal round.

Humboldt will also be a de facto home squad this week. The Wildcats make the 15-mile trip to Rogers Park for the second consecutive season on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Head coach Doug Van Pelt’s program, which is returning to state in back-to-back years for the first time ever, placed a school-best fifth in 2017.

Messenger-area participant Newell-Fonda, a state tourney regular, returns after a one-year hiatus. The Mustangs are unranked, but have the kind of postseason pedigree that tends to serve schools well in pressure situations. N-F has competed in 10 of the last 14 state tournaments.

Pleasant Valley (5A), Davenport Assumption (3A) and Iowa City Regina (2A) are defending champions. Johnston and West Des Moines Valley are both back in Fort Dodge for the sixth consecutive year.

Dubuque Hempstead, Louisa-Muscatine and Alta-Aurelia are tourney first-timers. Newton, Des Moines Hoover and Roland-Story return after long hiatuses.

Traditional regulars Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Charles City, Dallas Center-Grimes, Akron-Westfield and Martensdale St. Mary’s all know the lay of the land well.

Our award-winning sports department will do our best to bring a home-town feel to this week’s section for any and all qualifiers. Stories, statistics, pictures, brackets, features and social media updates are all a part of the package.

We’re again setting aside an entire webpage to the tournament — click on the ‘State Softball’ tab from our main Sports spot at www.messengernews.net — and a 32-page special preview section is in today’s Messenger, highlighting every qualifying school. Photo galleries will be available at CU.messengernews.net as well.

The state tournament is our annual opportunity to showcase the passion and pride of both our newspaper and the Fort Dodge community. This nearly 50-year relationship is one we treat with a great deal of care. We look forward to serving you, the reader, in the days ahead. Our work will be unwavering until the final out is recorded.

Thank you for making us a part of your tournament experience!

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at (515) 573-2141, by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports