The Fort Dodge softball program often recites the mantra, ”team beats talent when talent isn’t a team.”
At first blush, that may sound like a swipe at many of the bigger, stronger opponents the Dodgers have to face through their ultra-competitive schedule. When 30 of 41 games are against ranked foes like FDSH’s 2016 gauntlet has become, motivational catch phrases are not only comforting, but oftentimes necessary.
Head coach Andi Adams insists the players in the other dugout have nothing to do with the saying, though. It’s not a slight intended for the West Des Moines Valleys and Waukees of the world, but rather, an internal reminder.
”We’ve been in every situation imaginable here through the years, but that is the one constant,” Adams said after her 2016 squad pulled off arguably the most memorable win of the lot – a 1-0 victory against defending state champion Waukee on the Warriors’ home field in a Class 5A regional semifinal on Saturday. ”Regardless of how talented you are on paper, or whether you’re the favorite or the underdog, you have to buy into each other and be on the same page when it comes to the intangibles like attitude and chemistry.
”There is no perfect formula for it. If there was, I’d bottle it year after year and so would every coach in every sport. We use that saying about the importance of team over individual as a mental note. You can accomplish great things as a team – goals and dreams you may never realistically imagine could come true. But that’s up to us and only us to control (collectively), and we have to do it together.”
The upset of fourth-ranked Waukee – a squad that returned seven position players and its top two pitchers from last summer’s 5A state title lineup, including University of Michigan recruit Sarah Schaefer – sent shockwaves across the state, and certainly ranks among Fort Dodge’s all-time triumphs. The Warriors had out-scored the opposition 78-10 during a 10-game winning streak to end the regular season, and slugged 88 extra-base hits in 40 contests before being completely silenced by sophomore hurler Bre Tjebben on Saturday.
Were the Dodgers themselves surprised? Not entirely. And was Adams stunned? Somewhat, though the program’s postseason track record more than speaks for itself by now.
”The girls really, truly believe in themselves,” said Adams, who has a tournament record of 36-22 at FDSH. ”There is a sincerity in their overall inexperience; I’d say it’s an innocence, but once the game starts, any (naivete) goes away. They’ve taken on the best, and they’ve gone toe-to-toe with the best. They’re not intimidated by any situation.
”A lot of (media members) came up to me afterward and ask me if something like this was unprecedented. I think that by now – even though yes, this was huge – we’ve established ourselves as a program that can do some damage (in the tournament).”
Now, fate again shifts Sioux City East in the Dodgers’ direction for a symmetric twist. In 2006, Fort Dodge knocked out fourth-rated Johnston in the regional semifinals and had to beat the Black Raiders to get to state. In 2011, unranked and lightly-regarded Fort Dodge toppled No. 11 Waukee to reach the regional finals against – you guessed it – East.
This year’s Black Raiders are a very respectable 26-13. The Dodgers defeated them 10-2 in the FDSH Invitational on June 17, but Adams insists her ballclub isn’t about to put the cart in front of the horse Tuesday night at Rogers Park.
”We’ve come too far to take anything for granted now,” Adams said. ”We’re in no position to ease off (the gas pedal) or start assuming anything. And we won’t.
”We’re looking forward to being at home in front of our fans. We’ve earned this opportunity. Now we have to make the most of it.”
Adams paused, then added, ”it’s not about the best players or individuals at this point in the season. It’s about the true ‘teams.’ That’s what got us through (Saturday), that’s what it will be about (Tuesday), and that’s what you’ll see from every program at state.”
Will the Dodgers be one of those qualifiers at Rogers Park next week? We’ll find out soon enough. Win or lose, they’ve proven talent isn’t a concern. At Fort Dodge, ‘team’ always comes first.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org