INSTANT CLASSIC

Walk-off HR by Jefferson spells heartbreak for Dodgers

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Daphne Alstott of Fort Dodge slide underneath Cedar Rapids Jefferson Gabby Zach during class 5A quarterfinals on Tuesday at Rogers Park

It took elite skill to defeat Fort Dodge’s will at the state softball tournament here Tuesday.

Lindsey Culver’s two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning allowed third-seeded Cedar Rapids Jefferson to finally break free from the eighth-ranked Dodgers in a classic pitchers’ duel at Rogers Park. The recently-named National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American ended a back-and-forth Class 5A quarterfinal battle in the J-Hawks’ favor, 3-1.

Head coach Andi Adams’ squad gave fourth-ranked Jefferson everything it could handle in front of approximately 1,500 fans on a gorgeous evening on Diamond 2. In the end, a Div. I pitcher — J-Hawk senior ace Erica Oler — and a Div. I hitter — Culver, a junior who has committed to South Dakota State University — did what all-state upperclassmen do: elevate their team to victory with everything on the line.

”These girls fought their hearts out,” Adams said. ”They left it all out on the field. I know there are things we may have done differently if given the chance. There are some opportunities we missed and chances we could have taken advantage of. But you could play the would’ve/should’ve/could’ve game all night long after any loss. And we gave too much to look back now in that way.

”It was an amazing effort against an outstanding opponent. We held their offense in check as long as we could. They held us down for just that much longer. And that’s a credit to Oler.”

Jeff’s 6-foot-2 left-hander wasn’t completely unhittable, but she made the necessary pitches to keep FDSH (35-8) in check. The Dodgers went just 1-for-15 in their last 17 plate appearances against Oler — who is heading to the University of Northern Iowa in the fall — managing only a Tristin Doster single and a Tory Bennett walk from the fourth inning on.

Bre Tjebben, Oler’s counterpart, was every bit as good for Fort Dodge in the circle. The senior right-hander slowed down a J-Hawk lineup that led all of 5A in batting average during the regular season, scattering six hits in seven innings of work and retiring 10 consecutive batters from the end of the fourth through the seventh.

When Jeff’s No. 2 hitter — Kaylee Donner — led off the bottom of the eighth with a hit, Adams took Tjebben out in favor of eighth-grader Jalen Adams.

”Bre was just phenomenal, both with her pitching and her defense,” Adams said. ”She’d done her job. We were getting into the heart of their order for the fourth time at that point, so we tried to mix it up a little and give them a different look with Jalen.

”Between the regional final (a complete-game performance at No. 6 Urbandale) and this, coupled with beating (defending state champ) Waukee and Sioux City East (as a sophomore) and how she pitched at Valley (last year in the regional final) … Bre ranks right up there among the all-time clutch pitchers in the history of our program.”

Adams hung tough against Culver, who came into the tourney batting .571. After a number of foul balls and on the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Culver hit a rocket into the left-centerfield stands to end the ballgame.

The J-Hawks (35-8) plated a first-inning run and threatened more in both the third and the fourth, but Tjebben worked her way out of jams both times. Culver and Oler were both retired at home in the third after hitting a single and a double, respectively, on a comebacker to Tjebben and a failed squeeze. Tjebben also stranded runners at first and second with a lineout to end the fourth.

The Dodgers got on the board in the top of the third, when freshman Chloe Wertz singled to right, was sacrificed to second base by eighth-grader Tory Bennett, then driven home on a triple by junior Daphne Alstott with just one out. In a key moment, Oler escaped further damage by getting Aubrey Davis and Tjebben to fly out.

Fort Dodge didn’t have another runner reach second base the rest of the way.

”I’m really proud of my team,” Alstott said. ”We came out with a lot of energy and competed (from start to finish).

”The crowd support was amazing. It really got us going. The stands were just a sea of red. That meant a lot to us.”

Well over 1,000 Dodger fans filled both the home-plate and first-base side bleachers, as well as all of the temporary seating in the outfield.

Oler only issued one free pass, and CRJ didn’t commit a single error behind her.

Tjebben allowed just one earned run, with two walks issued and one strikeout.

Doster finished with two hits. Bennett made a spectacular snow-cone catch on a sinking slap attempt to start the seventh inning at shortstop.

After the game, the daughter of Dennis ”Dodger Denny” Olson, Laura Sanchez, approached the team and spoke to them in an emotional moment down the first-base line. Olson, a man Adams has long considered ”our biggest and most loyal supporter” through the years, died on Monday at the age of 65.

The program recognized him with ”DD” tribute stickers, and made sure Olson’s seat was positioned right outside their dugout in its usual spot.

”It’s been a tough 36 hours,” Adams said. ”The kids handled themselves well. We’ve gone through a lot of different emotions over the last week, but we tried our best to play the way our fans would expect and want us to fight.”

The Dodgers must quickly regroup for a consolation game against Dubuque Hempstead (31-12) on Dodger Diamond at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Jefferson advances to face third-rated and second-seeded Indianola (35-3) at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

CR JEFFERSON 3, FORT DODGE 1

Fort Dodge 001 000 00 — 1 5 2

CR Jefferson 100 000 02 — 3 7 0

WP–Erica Oler (27-5; 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K). LP–Bre Tjebben (9-2; 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). 3B–FD: Daphne Alstott. HR–CRJ: Lindsey Culver.

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