Dodgers state-bound again after tense qualifying win
The game deepened and the pressure intensified. Second-ranked (Class 5A) Fort Dodge was locked into a scoreless duel with upset-minded Ankeny in a Region 3 championship game, with hundreds of Dodger softball fans nervously hoping for a breakout moment at Rogers Sports Complex.
A berth in the state tournament was on the line, and the tension was palpable. Head coach Andi Adams admitted, “I must have sweat off 10 pounds.” But as she peered into the eyes of anxious on-lookers while feeling some self-doubt herself, one group never hit the panic button: her players.
Fort Dodge finally broke free from the resilient Hawkettes with a three-run bottom of the sixth inning, and freshman ace Jalen Adams did the rest in completing a two-hit shutout as the Dodgers secured a return trip to state with a 3-0 victory on Tuesday.
Adams’ squad will be the No. 2 seed in the 5A tournament, which begins on Tuesday, July 23, back at Rogers Park. FDSH will play at 7 p.m. on Diamond 1 against an opponent to be determined in the state quarterfinals.
“There were so many tense situations that really tested our resolve and belief in each other,” said Adams, who was coaching in her ninth consecutive regional final. “But our kids never wavered. We’re sitting in a 0-0 game against a terrific program and a great coach, and as we’ve learned before, anything can happen in softball. It’s easy to crack as the favored team late.
“Our players didn’t crack. They deserve a ton of credit for the confidence they have in themselves and each other to do the right thing and make the right play, even if they’re frustrated. True contenders find a way.”
The Dodgers (34-6 overall) turned an unsettling feeling into sheer elation in the sixth, when sophomore Tristin Doster drew a one-out walk, stole second base, stole third, then scored on a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt by senior Aubrey Davis.
With a 1-0 lead finally in hand, junior Loghen Schnetzer then dropped the hammer by blasting a two-run home run to right-centerfield. The crowd erupted in celebration as Schnetzer rounded the bases with her program-record 14th longball of the year.
“We just kept believing in ourselves,” said Schnetzer, who broke Mallory Kilian’s single-season HR mark of 13 set in 2014. “There was a lot of pressure on us, especially being at home, but I don’t think any of us were really ever worried. And then when we went up 1-0, I just took a deep breath, tried to keep my hands high and make a level swing like Coach Adams always tells me.
“We really wanted to do this for Dodger Denny and his family (Tuesday was declared ‘Dodger Denny’ Day in Fort Dodge by Mayor Matt Bemrich recently, in honor of the town’s late sports superfan, Dennis Olson). We all envisioned this and worked so hard to make it happen … getting to celebrate and experience this on our own field is something we’ll always remember.”
While FDSH’s mighty offense was stuck in neutral for most of the evening, Adams — the ninth-grade daughter of the Dodgers’ head coach — was again locked in. The right-hander brilliantly maneuvered her way out of some trouble in both the first and third innings and made several pivotal defensive plays herself to keep Ankeny (20-19) at bay.
“I just had to keep hitting my spots, and I knew our defense had my back,” said Adams, who has fired 14 shutout innings in the postseason while allowing only three total hits. “We were concentrating on having fun and staying loose. That’s what we’re all about.
“It was different this time (compared to the year before, when Fort Dodge qualified with a regional final victory at Urbandale), pitching instead of (then-senior) Bre (Tjebben) and shouldering a lot of responsiblity with the ball in my hand. But I didn’t feel nervous … I really don’t think any of us did once the game got going. This is what we play for, and we trust each other and believe in each other so much. It was a total team effort.”
Adams (23-2) worked her way out of a 2nd-and-3rd, no-out jam in the third with a strikeout, a bunt popout, and by fielding a bases-loaded shot right back to her — the ball knocked Adams’ glove off — tossing to first for the out. Adams also made a diving catch on a bunt attempt in the second, and sprawled to field the ball and shovel it off to Schnetzer on a close call to end the top of the sixth.
“I’m very proud of both Jalen and the way the defense played behind her,” Coach Adams said. “We were scrambling at times, but the kids always found a way to get the big out. They could’ve freaked, or let the moment get too big for them, but they stayed calm and kept fighting.”
The Hawkette defense made a number of impressive outs in the field themselves, taking extra-base hits away from Doster, Haley Wills and Tory Bennett.
“It felt like they had four outfielders most of the time,” Coach Adams said. “I was just very impressed by how prepared they were. They knew our tendencies and weren’t intimidated by any of this. But that’s a Dave Bingham-coached team for you.”
Now the Dodgers return to state as the host school for the fourth time in five years and 10th since 2002 under Adams.
“I can’t say enough about the support system here,” Adams said. “I sound like a broken record, but this — all of this — takes a village. We’re a phenomenal community, and I can’t thank everyone — from my incredible coaches and families all the way through the businesses and fans who believe in us — enough.
“I get choked up thinking about it. The feeling is wonderful, sharing (the victory with them). Is this huge? Yes. But do we have bigger goals in mind? Yes. And we want them to be along for the ride with us every step of the way.”
FORT DODGE 3, ANKENY 0
Fort Dodge 000 003 — 3 5 2
WP–Jalen Adams (23-2; 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K). LP–Paige Jacobsen (10-9; 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). HR–FD: Loghen Schnetzer. SB–FD: Tristin Doster 2; A: Jasmine Rumley.