DES MOINES - Storybook finishes have become a Fort Dodge tradition in the quarterfinal round of the state baseball tournament.
Thursday's 5-4 victory over defending Class 4A champion West Des Moines Dowling could go down as the best of the bunch.
The third-seeded Dodgers (35-7 overall) completed another captivating comeback at Principal Park to set a school record for victories and reach the semifinals for the third time in four seasons. When senior Isaac Lehman delivered a run-scoring single in the bottom of the seventh inning to cap the last-gasp rally and set off an exuberant celebration, Fort Dodge's 15-plus hour rollercoaster ride of uncertainty had reached a familiar conclusion.
This one had its own unique twist, though.
Rain postponed the contest after just one inning on Wednesday night, forcing the game to a 10 a.m. start yesterday morning. Despite the smaller crowd and no prime-time spotlight, the Dodgers still showed a flare for the dramatic by ousting the stunned Maroons (32-11) with their third walk-off quarterfinal triumph since 2007 alone.
''No one plays team baseball like Fort Dodge,'' senior Will Gormally smiled afterward. ''And this was a true team win. We had so much energy bottled up from the night before - it wasn't easy basically counting down the time (from leaving Principal Park on Wednesday until the first pitch Thursday), but we tried to stay relaxed and calm.
FORT DODGE 5, WDM DOWLING 4
WDM?Dowling 013 000 0 -?4 6 1
Fort Dodge 110 100 2 - 5 7 2
Jake Reinhardt (4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K), Joe Erickson (L, 3-4; 2 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K), Andrew Clemen (0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K), Bobby LeWarne (0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K)?and Jake DeBont. Will Gormally (3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K), Tyler Vaughn (W, 10-0; 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K) and Devon Harms. LOB-Dowling 5, Fort Dodge 6. 2B-D:?Nick Navin; FD:?Tyler Vaughn. S-FD: Vandermaten. SF-FD:?Gormally.
''It's just crazy to be a part of something like this. It feels great, but we're not done yet.''
The fourth-ranked Dodgers now face No. 2 Cedar Rapids Kennedy (33-6) in a state semifinal matchup here at 8 p.m. tonight. Kennedy, the 2010 Class 4A champ that was ousted by FDSH in the quarterfinals a year ago, eliminated Marion Linn-Mar on Wednesday, 13-1.
Dowling, which was knocked out by the Dodgers in similar fashion here three years ago, quickly rebounded from the 1-0 deficit it had faced the night before with a run in the second inning and three more in the third. Fort Dodge countered with a single run in the fourth, but the true rally didn't come until the Dodgers' final at-bat.
Gormally walked to lead off the seventh, and fellow senior Luke Vandermaten was hit by a pitch. The Maroons turned to ace Andrew Clemen at that point, who allowed Sam Edwards to reach on a sacrifice bunt before hitting Tommy Halligan with the bases loaded to knot the score at 4-4.
Clemen was pulled in favor of Bobby LeWarne - the third DHS pitcher in the frame. Lehman laced the first pitch he saw over the second baseman's head, bringing home Vandermaten with the winning run.
The Dodger bench spilled out of the dugout and sprinted into right field with Lehman as fans wearing red vigorously cheered on Fort Dodge's fourth quarterfinal victory since 2007.
''I was just trying to make contact and put the ball in play somewhere,'' Lehman said. ''That's what we're all about - doing the little things that add up over the course of a game. That and keep believing in each other.''
Head coach Matt Elsbecker, who saw his squad surpass the 1989 state runner-up team with their program-best 35th victory of the season, called the entire experience ''the epitome of Dodger baseball.''
''Our kids never quit, our seniors stepped up, everyone contributed and our fans truly inspired us,'' Elsbecker said. ''It was everything all wrapped into one wild stretch of the state tournament.
''I was trying my best to keep my composure (overnight), but that was a long 12 hours to wait. The players did a better job of being patient and then finding that second wind when we needed it most. Again, though, a lot of that credit goes to our support system and the crowd that basically willed us back.''
Junior Tyler Vaughn (10-0) remained unbeaten with four sparkling innings of shutout relief. Vaughn allowed just a single hit and didn't walk a batter, fanning two and allowing the CIML Iowa Conference champions to swing the momentum back in their favor.
''Tyler was just huge,'' Elsbecker said. ''We asked a lot of Will to start (Wednesday) and then come back (Thursday). Tyler came in and really took control. His presence was definitely a turning point; he got better and better as the game wore on, and it gave our offense a chance to get back in it.''
''I just wanted to throw strikes and keep us in the ballgame,'' Vaughn said. ''Our offense is so balanced (the Dodgers are batting a 4A tournament best .372) that it's usually only a matter of time before we come around.
''We went back to the hotel (on Wednesday), tried to stay loose and get some rest. We were up at 6 a.m. (Thursday), so it's been a long 24 hours, but it's all worth it.''
Gormally and Halligan each had two RBI for Fort Dodge, while five different Dodgers scored runs. The Dowling staff had a tourney-best 1.37 earned run average coming into the contest, but Jake Reinhardt, Joe Erickson, Clemen and LeWarne combined to surrender five earned runs in a single outing for the first time this year.
''I'm very impressed by how our young men are handling pressure situations,'' said Elsbecker, who now owns a 21-7 postseason record in the last eight years for a program that didn't win a single tournament game from 1997 through 2004. ''They didn't panic and they didn't try to do too much. That's the sign of a mature, heady group.
''This is a very emotional moment. They all are down here, but when you watch what these kids can do and how they are backed by this sea of red - you just want to freeze these moments in time.''
''Our fans are incredible. They always have been. To see how many of them made the trip back from Fort Dodge at 10 in the morning after being down here the night before ... it means a lot to us. Now we just hope to see them back here at 8 (p.m. tonight).''