Dodgers play for state at Urbandale

Top-10 matchup pits CIML Iowa Conference rivals against each other

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Bre Tjebben on Fort Dodge connects for an RBI single against Johnston at Rogers Park during the regular season.

URBANDALE — Plenty of discussion went into which program would host the Class 5A Region 1 softball championship between Fort Dodge and Urbandale.

As soon as the final IGHSAU rankings were released last Thursday — the deciding factor in the location of the regional final — the debate ended in the eyes of Dodger head coach Andi Adams.

”We’ve never been a program that made excuses or backed down from a challenge. It’s definitely not going to start now,” said Adams of eighth-ranked Fort Dodge, who will visit the No. 6 J-Hawks on Tuesday for one of eight 5A state tournament bids. ”That’s why we face the competition we face (during the regular season). We’ve been through this before. We’ll go through it again. It’s part of what makes us Dodgers in the first place.

”We play a tough schedule. We face a lot of great programs. We deal with adversity and have been overlooked at times through the years. (The site of the game) doesn’t matter. You prove it on the field anyway. (No. 2, 5A) Cedar Rapids Kennedy, (No. 11) Waukee, (No. 1, 4A) Carlisle and (No. 3) Winterset (all elite programs who lost in the regional semifinals over the weekend) would trade places with us in an instant. We’re just fortunate to have earned the right to play in this game.”

For the fifth time this season — in the one that matters most — Fort Dodge (34-7 overall) meets Urbandale (28-10) here this evening. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Gary Page Field.

It’s the ninth consecutive regional final appearance for the Dodgers, who have established a school record for wins in a 40-game schedule. FDSH leads 5A in hits, runs and RBI, with six different players having driven in over 30 runs.

Junior Daphne Alstott is batting .479 with 49 runs scored, 35 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Senior Bre Tjebben is at .451 with 50 driven in, and freshman clean-up hitter Tristin Doster has ripped a team-high 17 doubles and seven home runs while carrying a .381 average and knocking in 40.

Three different Dodgers have divided up pitching duties, and while Tjebben has logged the fewest innings, she will get the start against the J-Hawks. Tjebben, who has gone the distance in each of the program’s last two regional finals from the circle, is 8-1 with a 2.20 earned run average in 63ª innings of work.

Two years ago, Tjebben blanked defending state champion Waukee on the road in the regional semifinals, before shutting out Sioux City East in the championship round to help Fort Dodge reach state.

Eighth-grader Jalen Adams (18-3, 2.61 ERA, 112 strikeouts) and sophomore Katelyn Werning (9-2, 2.17) have also been effective hurlers for the Dodgers.

“At some point, every player (on the roster) has made a significant impact on the success of our team,” Adams said. “You can’t count out a single one of them; we need every one of them to reach our goal.”

The J-Hawks have been at Rogers Park for state in each of the last three seasons, reaching the 5A semifinals in 2016 and ’17. Led by Northwestern University recruit Skyler Shellmyer — the daughter of FDSH graduate Chad Shellmyer — Urbandale has rounded into form down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 12 to secure the CIML Iowa Conference title over the Dodgers and No. 7 Johnston.

After dropping 7-6 and 9-2 decisions to Fort Dodge at Rogers Park on June 11, the J-Hawks staged a pair of huge rallies to defeat the Dodgers at home on June 27 by scores of 6-5 and 7-6. Urbandale trailed 5-0 in the opener and 6-0 in the nightcap.

Shellmyer, soon to be a five-time all-state selection, is batting .535 with 6 HRs, 34 RBI, 62 runs scored and 27 stolen bases. Senior classmates Allison Yoder (.467, 3 HRs, 57 RBI) and Jessica Walljasper (.336, 4 HRs, 31 RBI) also anchor the J-Hawks’ offensive attack.

Walljasper (15-4 record, 1.54 ERA) — a Wartburg College recruit — will get the start in the circle for Urbandale.

Yoder is headed for South Dakota State University in the fall.

Adams has been particularly proud of this FDSH squad, which has just two seniors on its roster. Despite losing virtually 50 percent of its offensive production from an 18-21 campaign a season ago, the Dodgers have put together the best regular season under Adams in 13 years.

”I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting recently, and more than anything, I’d say I’m just very grateful,” said Adams, who has led eight different FDSH squads to state since 2002. ”I’m thankful that our seniors have been such terrific leaders. I’m thankful that the younger players have bought into our system. I’m thankful for the former Dodgers who have paved the way and been role models for (the current athletes). And I’m thankful for the parents and support system who put in countless hours behind the scenes to get to this point.

”Also, the community and the fans who have rallied behind us. We have so many people and businesses who have helped out in countless ways. I know they’ll be cheering us on (Tuesday), and we’ll need all the support we can get — both in person and in spirit.”