Fort Dodge softball team faces Cedar Rapids Jefferson in 5A quarterfinals

Submitted photo Members of the state-qualifying Fort Dodge softball team include, front row (left to right): Chloe Wertz, Sophia Klinger, Tory Bennett, Maia Davis, Daphne Alstott and Tristin Doster. Back: Aubrey Davis, Haley Wills, Malia Lowrey, Kaden Pederson, Bre Tjebben, Jalen Adams, Martyne Lowrey, Katelyn Werning and Loghen Schnetzer.

Andi Adams knows Fort Dodge doesn’t necessarily have the look of a prototypical powerhouse program.

The eighth-ranked Dodgers’ style is much more unconventional — befitting a school and a town that annually embraces the underdog role.

“I guess it’s kind of like sandlot softball,” said Adams, FDSH’s head coach. “Where it’s not about the size or the name or the resources, but more about who wants it the most and who is willing to fight the hardest until the game is over.”

This trademark scrappy mentality has served them well in 2018. The sixth-seeded Dodgers (35-7 overall) take on traditional power Cedar Rapids Jefferson (34-8) on Tuesday night in a Class 5A state quarterfinal. First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. on Diamond 2.

Fort Dodge is no stranger to this scenario. Adams’ squad was unranked in the preseason after losing nearly 50 percent of its offense and four starters from a ballclub that went 18-21 a year ago.

The fourth-rated J-Hawks, meanwhile, have been in 5A’s Top-5 for all but one brief stretch this season, and are making the program’s 24th state tournament appearance overall.

“We’ve been in this position basically all year — really, every year,” said Adams, who is at the helm of her ninth state team since 2002. “Jefferson is a household name; one of the most well-respected programs in the state. They’re almost always a consensus Top-5 team.

“As I’ve said before, though, it isn’t about our opponent. It’s about us. These girls just go out and do what they do and let the chips fall where they may. They’re very competitive, and they love playing the game and love playing with each other. No one works harder, but also, no one enjoys putting their cleats on and being on the field more than they do.”

The Dodger roster includes just four upperclassmen: seniors Bre Tjebben and Kaden Pederson, and juniors Daphne Alstott and Aubrey Davis. While the future looks bright — Adams laughed about the fact that half of her players can’t even drive themselves to practice — her veteran players have “meant anything and everything to this team.”

“Their leadership and patience is something I will always greatly appreciate,” Adams said. “Even with such a big age gap, there is a special bond and connection that (transcends) anything you could piece together about (their talents on paper).

“They don’t take anything for granted, and they don’t make excuses. They’ve taken all of the adversity, the questions and the criticisms and used it to strengthen their will.”

Fort Dodge, which advanced with a regional final victory at Urbandale that ended the J-Hawks’ state tourney run at three years, is led by Alstott (.476 batting average, 50 runs, 35 runs batted in, 20 stolen bases), Tjebben (.438, 50 RBI), freshman catcher Tristin Doster (.384, 8 HRs, 43 RBI), eighth-grader Jalen Adams (.373, 33 RBI) and freshman Loghen Schnetzer (.344, 6 HRs, 39 RBI). The lineup is deep and balanced; the Dodgers rank at the top of 5A in runs scored, hits and RBI.

The pitching staff is also diverse. Tjebben tossed a complete game in the regional finals, and currently sports a 9-1 record with a 2.18 earned run average. Adams (18-3, 2.61) and sophomore Katelyn Werning (9-2, 2.17) have come up big in clutch moments as well.

“We’ve needed each and every one of them, depending on the situation, and that won’t change,” Adams said. “They all have their roles, and when you add it up, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts — whether it be talent or experience.

“It’s not about stats or individual credit. They’re just not into that. I don’t want to say it’s a naivete, but there is definitely more of a focus on tuning everything out and just playing ball.”

Jefferson, as per ususal, is elite. The Mississippi Valley Conference divisional champions have been to state five times in six years under head coach Brian Erbe, who replaced iconic coach Larry Niemeyer in 2013.

Senior ace pitcher Erica Oler, a University of Northern Iowa recruit, is 26-5 with a 1.14 earned run average and 223 strikeouts. Jefferson’s offense is just as potent; it ranks first in all of 5A with a cumulative .373 average.

Junior Lindsey Culver is batting .571 with 8 home runs and 42 RBI. Senior Olivia Erickson is hitting .437, and junior Kaylee Donner is batting .417. Oler (.414, 4 HRs, 40 RBI) is also a threat at the plate.

The J-Hawks blanked West Des Moines Dowling in a regional final, 8-0.

“They’re very well-coached and they have a lot of talent,” Adams said. “Oler is an outstanding pitcher, and they have some good left-handed slap hitters that we haven’t seen as much (in the CIML) this season.

“When you get this far, everyone is legit and everyone relies on their own style. Gone are the traditional ways of scouting and preparation. You have to be able to diversify and adjust based on who you are playing and how they choose to attack.”

Adams gets to enjoy her first state experience with Jalen, her daughter. She admits, though, that “we haven’t really talked about it much.”

“It’s not about Jalen and I. We do everything together as a team. She knows how I am. I love her and I love the fact that she’s here with me (this year at state), but it’s about all of us.

“This is something we have accomplished as a community. The families and my assistants (Kenzie Alstott, Sam Edwards, Bre Drees, Molly Matthes and Michelle Willett), the loyal supporters who have been there for us since day one … I can’t thank them enough. Under different circumstances, I think we’ve all been looked at or treated as afterthoughts for one reason or another. But to me and to each other, we’re necessities.”