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Character counts for close-knit Dodgers

July 29, 2012

DES MOINES - Head coach Matt Elsbecker was brimming with pride even as Fort Dodge's chances for a state baseball championship began to slip away here Saturday night.

The Dodgers' first title shot on the diamond in nearly a quarter-century ended with a 10-0 loss to mighty Ankeny.

The top-ranked Hawks were simply too much for FDSH in the Class 4A finale at Principal Park, as they closed an unprecedented campaign with a large-school record 43 overall victories and a winning streak of 29 games dating back to early June.

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Even as the Dodgers' hopes faded, spirits remained relatively high. In front of over 2,000 fans - with many more red-clad than maroon - Elsbecker's program trailblazers still walked away with the school's first state runner-up baseball trophy since 1989 and an FDSH-record 36 wins.

"We laid it all on the line," Elsbecker said. "You can't ask for more than that out of your kids. Ankeny was the best team in the field and they've had an incredible season. They are very worthy champions.

"I will say this though: the Dodgers were right there until the end. You dream of winning it all, but first, you have to make it here. Our kids deserve a lot of credit for their overall body of work, regardless of what that scoreboard says (Saturday night). I'm very proud of them for everything they've accomplished and how they've represented Fort Dodge on and off the field."

The Dodgers advanced to the 4A final four for the fourth time since 2007 in their fifth appearance here over the course of the last eight seasons. This group took it a step further by reaching the title bout, with elimination wins over West Des Moines Dowling and Cedar Rapids Kennedy - the last two defending 4A state champs.

"I feel like we did something positive not just for this program, but for all of Fort Dodge," senior Will Gormally said. "That's what it's all about. We got here when no one else outside of our (community) thought we would, and there's something to be said for that.

"We definitely rode the wave of momentum, and our fans had a lot to do with us getting this far. We all want to thank them for the support. This has been a great ride - it just hurts to have it end here (in the finals) when we were so close."

Classmate Isaac Lehman agreed.

"We were definitely ready to go, but Ankeny's just a great team," Lehman said. "The fans were awesome. They stuck with us through it all - a lot of them had our backs from the beginning.

"It's been a lot of fun, but for now, (losing in the finals) really stings."

Fort Dodge advanced as the smallest school in the field. Keep this in mind: Ankeny's grade 9-11 enrollment this past year was 1,674. The school is splitting in 2013-14. Fort Dodge by comparison stood at 860 students, or practically half the size.

"I will walk onto the field with my young men into a game like this every time," Elsbecker said. "I've been coaching for 16 years, and I don't want to take anything away from any of my other teams, but this one certainly ranks right up there when you talk about true student-athletes.

"We had a (cumulative) 3.45 (grade point average), but on a character scale, these guys are a 10. This is just the beginning for our kids on the road of life."

Dodger supporters gave their squad a standing ovation as FDSH players left the field for the final time. Hugs were exchanged as they received the 4A runner-up trophy in an emotional closing moment.

"We'll look back on this someday as another memorable chapter in the tremendous history of our program, and these kids are the reason," Elsbecker said. "Future players were here (Saturday) like they have been for state tournament games before. Fans young and old from our community made the trip and gave us the kind of support we're incredibly lucky to have.

"Without a doubt, we're all proud today to say we're Dodgers."



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