The wait has been long for Scott City high school baseball fans.
While the Rams have five state final four berths in their program's history, they had not been in the state tournament in more than a decade.
After 13 years without a district title, the Rams took care of business in the Class 2 District 2 tournament last week and will face East Prairie today in a sectional game. Scott City (10-9) will travel to East Prairie (19-2) for a 4:30 p.m. start.
"It's just nice for these kids, and especially the seniors, to really get what they've worked for," Scott City coach Mike Umfleet said.
Playing in the SEMO Conference -- Scott City was just 2-7 in conference play -- Scott City got off to a rough start with a 1-6 overall record. The Rams have been on a tear since then, though, finally getting over the .500 mark with their district win.
"The kids believed all year they could do this," Umfleet said. "We played a tough schedule and played some tough teams close early. Fortunately, we're playing our best ball at the right time of year."
A key to Scott City's recent fortune has been the steady pitching of its two aces -- senior Mark Johnston and junior Andy Stephens.
Stephens struck out 17 batters in a first-round district win over Charleston and was also stellar in the championship victory over St. Vincent.
Umfleet said it all starts with pitching.
"No doubt, this game's about pitching," he said. "With Johnston and Stephens, we have two solid starters and an outstanding catcher who receives them in Jason [Schenimann]."
Defensively, the Rams have had their share of errors, including six in their three district games, but those errors lately have been mixed in with plenty of solid defensive plays.
"Our team ERA is right at 3.00 or maybe a littler under. When we make plays, we're going to win games," Umfleet said.
Offensively, Schenimann is hitting .389 and leading Scott City in nearly every offensive category. Kyle Curry is right behind with an average around .330.
"The big thing is we've been getting guys on base in front of them," Umfleet said. "Blake Dirnberger has really stepped up and got some big hits for us, and the last few weeks Andy Stephens has had some huge his."
East Prairie is led by Ben Walters, the Scott-Mississippi Conference player of the year. Walters is the Eagles' ace on the mound, and leads the team with a .506 batting average and 34 RBIs. Danny Bright is hitting .491 as well for the Eagles.
Umfleet will go with Stephens in an attempt to shut the Eagles down.
"He's been one of our best pitchers all year long," Umfleet said of Stephens. "I just tried to decide which one matches up better."
In Class 1 action, Advance will try to continue the trend of area teams making the state final four. Oran, which fell to Advance in the District 2 championship last week, had made it to the state final four each of the past three seasons.
The Hornets started the season 14-0 and carry an 18-2 record into today's sectional matchup with Holcomb (16-8). The game will be played at 4 p.m. at North Pemiscot High School in Wardell. It will be the first sectional appearance for Advance since 2002, when the Hornets later lost to Oran in the quarterfinal round.
Advance has a solid middle of the lineup with juniors Darrell Wade and Jeremy Limbaugh and sophomore Trent Moses. All three have also been successful on the mound for the Hornets, with Limbaugh picking up the win in the 2-1 district championship win over Oran.
Holcomb won its district tournament with a 2-1 victory over Cooter at North Pemiscot. Cody Adams will start for Holcomb after throwing the Hornets to their first district title since 2001.