A smile quickly came across Scott Timmerman's face, followed by an exhale.
The Fort Dodge girls basketball coach then high-fived his players as they spilled out of the locker room, where they were greeted by their anxious fans.
''This,'' Timmerman beamed, ''was a long time coming.''
The Dodgers earned the signature win they'd been so desperately craving here Friday, rallying for a 70-67 victory over No. 8 (Class 5A) Sioux City West inside the FDSH gym to improve to a perfect 3-0 on the young season.
For a program that had dropped 39 of 42 games overall coming into the 2013-14 campaign, confidence was a delicate subject. Instead of finding a way to lose last night, though, the Dodgers dug deep late again and secured their second close triumph in three tries - this one coming over a ranked opponent for the first time in nearly three full years.
''It's just huge - big for the fact that even though we believed we could get a (breakthrough victory) and really help the mental aspect of the game (for the future), we hadn't actually done it yet,'' Timmerman said. ''We'd shown flashes and pockets of potential, but we hadn't put that complete game together. We got a lot closer (Friday).
FORT DODGE 70, SIOUX CITY WEST 67
Fort Dodge - Ashley Altman 7-15 4-5 20, Madi Bennett 5-8 2-4 13, Lani Van Zyl 4-12 3-5 13, Tiana Mericle 5-6 2-3 12, Mallory Kilian 2-4 2-4 6, Rachel Herrington 1-2 0-0 2, Justice Crooks 0-1 2-4 2, Molly Matthes 0-1 2-2 2, Lexi Astor 0-1 0-0 0, Liza Hatcher 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 24-50 17-27 70.
Sioux City West - Tanya Meyer 11-15 7-9 30, Samantha Birkes 2-8 2-2 8, Cassandra Geopfert 3-4 0-0 6, Rachel Knutson-Kobold 2-6 1-6 5, Amanda Gors 1-3 3-4 5, Heaven Silvas 3-4 1-1 7, Madison Jensen 1-2 1-5 3, Serenity Sibley 0-1 3-4 3. Totals: 23-43 18-31 67.
Quarter scores: Fort Dodge led 20-18; Tied 35-35; West led 50-46. Three-point goals: Fort Dodge 5-17 (Altman 2-3, Van Zyl 2-9, Bennett 1-2, Kilian 0-2, Crooks 0-1); West 3-10 (Birkes 2-4, Meyer 1-4, Silvas 0-1, Geopfert 0-1). Turnovers: Fort Dodge 27, Sioux City West 22. Total fouls: Fort Dodge 24, Sioux City West 27. Technical foul: West bench. Fouled out: Astor, Mericle, Kilian, Birkes, Geopfert.
''I guess the best part is that we were far from perfect and still beat a Top-10 opponent. That's exciting and a real momentum booster.''
Senior forward Ashley Altman had 20 points, 17 rebounds and six assists to pace the Dodgers, who fought back from a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation despite seeing three of their regulars - seniors Tiana Mericle and Lexi Astor and junior Mallory Kilian - foul out. Fort Dodge prevailed with reserves Rachel Herrington, Molly Matthes and Justice Crooks on the court for the latter part of the fourth quarter.
''The biggest difference so far from the preseason on is that we're playing together and embracing the team concept more than ever,'' Timmerman said. ''That means knowing and accepting your roles and doing whatever it takes to get the 'W.' We saw that (last night) from top to bottom. This was a true team win.''
Matthes, a junior who had just five points in her brief varsity career before Friday, calmly sank a pair of free throws with Fort Dodge leading by a single point and only four seconds left on the clock. That capped a 9-2 run to close the contest, with buckets by Altman and sophomore Madi Bennett and foul shots from Matthes, junior point guard Lani Van Zyl and Crooks, a freshman.
''Just a great moment for Molly,'' Timmerman said. ''It was really special to see her handle the pressure like that. We got productive minutes from our bench down the stretch without Tiana, Lexi and Mallory.
''The kids had to deal with some adversity late, yet they showed a lot of resilience. You don't beat a team like that with a handful of individuals doing their own thing. Proving that to ourselves will serve us well in the future.''
Bennett (13 points), Van Zyl (13) and Mericle (12) followed Altman and also reached double figures for the Dodgers, whose last win over a rated foe came in January of 2011 at home against West Des Moines Valley.
All-state forward Tanya Meyer had 30 points for the Wolverines (2-2), who dropped an overtime decision to No. 5 (4A) Sioux City Heelan on Thursday in a game bogged down by 101 total free-throw attempts. Meyer now has 115 points in the first four games of the season, but she didn't attempt a single shot in the entire fourth quarter last night.
The Dodgers will next take on top-ranked and defending 5A state champion Dowling in West Des Moines on Tuesday.