ANKENY - The pain was real. The emotions, overwhelming.
No one would've blamed the Fort Dodge softball team had they left the field quickly and quietly following another regional final loss at Ankeny here Tuesday.
Instead, the Dodgers just couldn't let go.
Players lined the visiting dugout in stunned silence, where tears replaced words and a proud coach tried to navigate her squad away from the place where FDSH's season again came to an end.
''Look at them,'' Andi Adams nodded in the Dodgers' direction. ''They don't want it to be over. They don't want this to be the end. And I promise you, this is as sincere as it gets. They are crushed. We all wanted it so badly - the hurt comes from both the disappointment of losing, and the fact that we love each other very much.''
The defending state champion Hawkettes (32-10 overall), who are currently ranked second in Class 5A, plated five runs in the fifth inning to pull away from Fort Dodge (26-16) and prevail by a 6-0 final. Ankeny will be returning to Rogers Park next week in an attempt to defend their title.
ANKENY 6, FORT DODGE 0
Fort Dodge 000 000 0 - 0 6 0
Ankeny 100 050 x - 6 10 0
Mallory Kilian (L, 16-7; 6 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K) and Taylor Messerly; Courtney Clayberg (W, 19-7; 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 2 K) and Kendyl Lindaman. LOB-Ankeny 6, Fort Dodge 10. DP-Fort Dodge 1. 2B-A: Kendyl Lindaman, Ashlie Chambers. HR-A: Emilee Dorpinghaus, Taylor Steinfeldt. SB-FD: Lexi Astor. S-FD: Madi Bennett 2.
Adams' ballclub didn't go quietly in front of over 1,000 vocal fans at the new Ankeny High School. The Dodgers stranded 10 runners on base - leaving the bases loaded twice and six in scoring position - without ever cracking the ice against Hawkette sophomore hurler Courtney Clayberg (19-7).
Meanwhile, Ankeny turned to its signature long-ball prowess - the Hawkettes hit a pair of round-trippers yesterday to bring their aggregate total to 48 - to pull away. Senior Emilee Dorphinghaus and junior Taylor Steinfeldt both went deep in the explosive fifth frame.
''You can only keep them in check for so long,'' Adams conceded. ''They just keep coming at you; there really aren't any weaknesses in their lineup.
''We were hanging on for so long down 1-0 - I feel like if we had been able to get a clutch hit and go ahead or even tie things up, the pressure would've shifted a little and our confidence would've grown. But you have to give Clayberg and their defense credit (Ankeny didn't commit a single error) for slamming the door on us when we had our chances. I have nothing but respect for their coaching staff and their program. They're a deserving (state qualifier) and a worthy championship contender again.''
Junior leadoff hitter Lexi Astor had two hits for the Dodgers, while freshman Madi Bennett recorded a single to the wall and two successful sacrifices. Sophomore Lani Van Zyl walked twice, and junior Maddie Egli contributed a single and a walk.
As was the case both last year in a 1-0 regional final loss to the Hawkettes and in a doubleheader sweep during the regular season earlier this summer, though, Fort Dodge didn't tally a single extra-base hit. Ankeny, meanwhile, delivered a pair of doubles and a pair of home runs.
Hawkette senior clean-up hitter Ashlie Chambers went 3-for-3. Freshman sensation Kendyl Lindaman - who was batting .521 with 23 homers and 57 RBI coming into the game - reached base three times, with a double, a single and a walk.
Adams' lineup is still relatively young - she loses only catcher Taylor Messerly and pitcher Megan Gibson to graduation - but the 13-year FDSH leader wasn't ready to look forward afterward.
''I feel a lot like they feel. I don't want to leave the field, because then the finality sets in,'' Adams said. ''This is a gritty, gutsy group of fighters. All heart. I wouldn't trade them for anything.
''We'll get back to work tomorrow. We'll concentrate on next season later. For now, in this moment, they need to know that I love them and I'm incredibly proud of them. No matter what they accomplished or where the season officially ended, nothing was going to change that. They've done so much for me and so much for this program beyond what the wins, losses or stats say.''
Adams also thanked the sonorous Dodger fanbase, which rivaled Ankeny's in both size and stature despite being in a road environment. When the players did exit approximately 15 minutes after the final pitch, they received a loud ovation from their side of the crowd. Many had stayed to show their support despite the setback.
''Incredible. Just incredible. I can't thank our fans enough,'' Adams said. ''It meant so much to our players and our program. That just gave me chills. And to see their reaction after the game - it's what being a Dodger is all about.''