Relentless Dodgers take down tourney vet, CIML rival Urbandale to reach state
URBANDALE — The sixth-ranked (Class 5A) Urbandale softball team had the home field, the senior stars and the state pedigree.
Fort Dodge simply had each other.
On a magical night for the program in front of their frenzied fanbase, the unrelenting Dodgers sent the savvy J-Hawks home with a 5-2 Region 1 victory that secured head coach Andi Adams’ squad its ninth state tournament bid since 2002 and third in four years on Tuesday at Gary Page Field.
As it has so many times before, No. 8 Fort Dodge (35-7 overall) defied the odds and defeated its critics with a clutch performance on Urbandale’s home field.
Senior Bre Tjebben further solidified her place among the program’s all-time pressure pitchers with a complete-game performance, and rising star Tristin Doster delivered an RBI double and a solo home run to send the 28-11 J-Hawks — state qualifiers in each of the last three seasons — to the sidelines.
“This team is all heart,” Adams said between hugs and well-wishes in an emotional postgame scene. “They aren’t fazed by anything. They aren’t afraid. They believe in each other. All of them.
“This is a complicated sport and I know this sounds simple, but when it comes right down to it, what matters more than that? They make one of the hardest (intangibles) in sports (to obtain), chemistry and sincerity, look like it’s the easiest thing in the world to bottle. They care about each other. They love each other. And I can’t emphasize enough how proud I am that our team is known for that.”
The CIML Iowa Conference rivals split the regular-season series, with Fort Dodge letting two big late leads slip away here last month. With the pressure of the moment intensifying and Urbandale in make-or-break mode, Tjebben (9-1) — the crafty veteran with a deceptive change-up — grinded her way through the lineup and closed the door on the J-Hawks time and time again.
“I was just trying to zone everything out and focus on TK (Doster, the catcher),” said Tjebben, who also led FDSH to a shocking regional championship as a sophomore two summers ago by shutting out defending state champion Waukee and Sioux City East. “It was about hitting my spots and not letting (the atmosphere) get to me.
“I know I’m oversimplifying a little by saying this, but I was just taking it one pitch at a time. With what happened down here (during the regular season), we weren’t going to get ahead of ourselves. We had to execute and finish.”
The Dodgers lost nearly 50 percent of their offensive production from an 18-21 season a year ago. Understandably unranked to start the summer, Fort Dodge began to climb the ladder and piece together one of those vintage overlooked, underestimated campaigns.
Despite having miles of postseason experience on their side, the J-Hawks appeared tight and rattled in the early going. A pair of two-out, first-inning infield errors let the Dodgers gain the upper-hand almost immediately at 2-0.
Urbandale answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the frame, but Tjebben worked around three hits and didn’t allow any further damage. She did the same in the second, stranding the bases loaded.
Up 2-1, Fort Dodge found some breathing room in the fifth when Aubrey Davis singled and Doster roped a double into the right-centerfield gap with two outs. Eighth-grader Jalen Adams followed that up with an RBI single of her own, and it was suddenly 4-1.
Doster, just a freshman, drilled a solo home run down the line in right field with two outs in the seventh. Though the J-Hawks tried to mount a comeback in the bottom half with a two-out double and single to plate one, Tjebben got clean-up hitter Jessica Walljasper to fly out to Sophia Klinger in right and end it.
Chants of “let’s go Dodgers!” greeted the squad in the seventh from FDSH’s raucous fanbase. A loud celebration hit the complex like a tidal wave when Klinger — who also made a spectacular 9-3 putout on what appeared to be a single to lead off the fourth — caught the final out.
“This team is all about each other, and for each other,” Doster said. “We don’t care about who gets the credit or the recognition. That’s not what this sport is about. It comes down to who is the better team. Individual talent only takes you so far if you don’t believe (in one another).”
Senior Kaden Pederson added two singles in the win. Junior Daphne Alstott reached base twice — on a walk and an infield single.
All five FDSH runs came with two outs. On a sticky, muggy evening, the Dodgers had a number of at-bats go deep in both counts and foul balls against Walljasper, who also lost to Fort Dodge at Rogers Park in early June.
Tjebben scattered 10 hits with one walk and two strikeouts. The Dodgers committed only one error behind her, compared to three by Urbandale.
The brilliant career of four-time first team all-state shortstop Skyler Shellmyer came to an end with Fort Dodge’s triumph. Shellmyer, the daughter of FDSH grad Chad Shellmyer, is headed to Northwestern University in the fall. Her UHS teammate, Allison Yoder, will play for South Dakota State University.
“They’re two of the best players around,” Adams said. “Skyler has been an unbelievable player to go up against. Urbandale had a terrific senior class who accomplished so much, reaching the final four in the last three years.
“We believed. We shared the same mindset. It wasn’t easy, but we didn’t care who we played or where we played to get here. I’m so lucky to have this (as Adams pointed to her team and the crowd) — we’re so lucky to have this. It’s really special.”
Tjebben added, “this is just amazing. There’s nothing like (qualifying for state). It’s going to be the best week of our lives.”
Fort Dodge was given the No. 6 seed for the upcoming state tournament, which begins for Class 5A on Tuesday at Rogers Park. The Dodgers will face third-seeded Cedar Rapids Jefferson at 7:30 p.m.
FORT DODGE 5, URBANDALE 2
Fort Dodge 200 020 1 — 5 7 1
Urbandale 100 000 1 — 2 10 3
WP — Bre Tjebben (9-1; 7 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K); LP — Jessica Walljasper (7 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). 2B — FD: Tristin Doster; U: Allison Yoder. HR — FD: Tristin Doster.