ANKENY - An entire year of preparation and anticipation comes down to this for the Fort Dodge softball team here Tuesday.
The Dodgers (26-15 overall) head to second-ranked Ankeny and take on the defending state champion Hawks (31-10) in a Class 5A regional final. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
From the time head coach Andi Adams' squad suffered a 1-0 setback at Ankeny in the postseason last summer, the focus has been getting back in position to qualify for state. Now Fort Dodge finds itself facing the same opponent on the same field in an effort to erase the memories of that crushing defeat.
''This is what our players have been working for from literally the minute after (a 1-0 loss to the then-No. 1 Hawks in the 2012 regional finals),'' Adams said. ''That team went on to win the state championship in impressive fashion, but we were right there with them until the heartbreaking end.
''We have nothing but respect for their program and what they've accomplished. That (setback) fueled us from the day after it happened through (tonight). We're ready. We're more than ready.''
Ankeny is hitting its stride at the right time, with wins in 12 of its last 14 contests overall. That streak includes a doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers at Rogers Park last month, 3-1 and 6-1.
Junior Serena Blank (12-2) pitched both games for the Hawks that night, but Adams anticipates seeing Hawk sophomore Courtney Clayberg (18-7) in the circle this evening.
Fort Dodge will counter with sophomore Mallory Kilian (16-6), who worked three scoreless innings against Ankeny before departing during the regular season.
The Hawks boast arguably the most feared offensive weapon in the state in freshman sensation Kendyl Lindaman. The catcher is batting .521 with 23 home runs and 57 RBI in 41 games.
Lindaman - the 2012 Class 5A state all-tournament team captain as just an eighth-grader - is one long ball shy of Iowa's prep record for a single season, set by Erica Martinez of Fort Madison in 1999.
Sophomore Serena Moss (.431), junior Olivia Parker (.414), junior Taylor Steinfeldt (.407) and senior Emily Dorphinghaus (.404) are also batting above .400 for Ankeny, which is in its last season as a combined school. The Hawks will split into two programs for the 2013-14 athletic campaign.
''Last year, with (first team all-state pitcher and Iowa Hawkeye recruit Shayla) Starkenburg, Ankeny's offense wasn't at center stage and got a bit overlooked,'' Adams said. ''She's graduated, and their lineup is really getting the credit it deserves now. It's as deep and powerful as anyone's (the Hawks rank second in the state with 46 home runs and third in 5A with a .386 team average).
''Like every tournament game, this will come down to execution and making plays, both defensively and with timely hitting at the plate. Everyone has the same goal in mind at this point: there are 16 (5A programs) left fighting for eight state spots. And we desperately want to make it back.''
Both teams passed their first tourney test with flying colors. The Dodgers overwhelmed Sioux City East on Saturday, 12-0 in four innings, while Ankeny knocked out Ames, 10-1.
Kilian (.451, 7 HR, 41 RBI), junior Lexi Astor (.438, 38 stolen bases) and sophomore Lani Van Zyl (.364) are FDSH's main offensive catalysts.
The Dodgers have reached the state tournament six times during Adams' 13-year tenure, with their most recent appearance coming in 2011. The Hawks, a state powerhouse in the 1980s and 90s, have made 22 trips to state overall, though last year was their first since 1996.