Dodgers ready for 5A's best at state

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge celebrates after defeating Ankeny during Class 5A Regional Finals on Tuesday at Rogers Park

The pursuit of a 2019 state championship officially began for the Fort Dodge softball team back in early May.

In reality, this week is — yet again — the culmination of a dream almost a decade in the making for the Dodgers and head coach Andi Adams.

Second-ranked and second-seeded Fort Dodge (34-6 overall) returns to Rogers Park this week as the state tournament host and a repeat Class 5A qualifier. The Dodgers face No. 7 seed West Des Moines Valley (29-10) in the quarterfinal round on Kruger Seeds Field — Diamond 1 — at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

Last year, the precocious Dodgers — affectionately dubbed “The Wolfpack” — turned what was expected to be a period of transition into the program’s third state bid in four seasons. Adams’ squad is still young — there are only two seniors and two juniors on the entire roster — but there is no looking ahead, even for a group that starts four freshmen and three sophomores.

“This is about all of us, right now, this week,” said Adams, who has guided 10 different FDSH teams to state in the last 18 years. “We’re not thinking about the future. We’re not assuming that because we’re a high seed, we’ll just cruise into the semifinals or finals.

“We’ll take it inning by inning, out by out, pitch by pitch, like always. I told the girls last year, you never know if you’ll be back in this moment, or (at Rogers Park). You have to make the most of the situation directly in front of you. And I am confident they will do that. As I said before (the postseason started), they’ve been preparing for this not just all season long, but basically all of their lives. The sacrifice and the commitment started when they were little. It’s time for all of us get out of their way and let them do their thing.”

The Dodgers have won 10 consecutive games and 16 of 17 overall heading into Tuesday’s matchup on their home field. A sweep of head coach Tom Bakey’s Tigers came during that stretch, though Adams knows full well how difficult this opening assignment will be against her program’s long-time rival.

“Valley is Valley,” said Adams, who is 607-268 in 18 years at FDSH. “They’ve been here (at state) seven straight times. Coach Bakey has almost 900 wins and four state titles in the last 15 years alone. They start six seniors and three juniors.

“It’s hard to believe they are the No. 7 seed, given they were ranked in the Top-3 for most of the year, but it just shows how loaded this 5A field is. It’s like the Iowa high school version of SEC softball. Any opponent from now on is going to be tough. It can’t be as much about that as it is about us — whether or not we can execute and handle the situations and ebbs and flows of the week.”

The Dodgers have advanced thanks in large part to a potent offense, which ranks second in 5A for batting average (.402), second in on-base percentage (.443), second in hits (441), third in slugging (.564), third in runs (335), third in RBI (278), third in doubles (81) and third in stolen bases (108).

Freshman Jalen Adams, the head coach’s daughter, is hitting .496 and has reached base in all 40 games. Sophomore Tristin Doster is batting .476 with 19 doubles, six triples, seven home runs, 46 RBI and 41 runs scored.

Junior Loghen Schnetzer broke the school’s single-season home run record in a 3-0 regional final victory over Ankeny. Schnetzer carries a .357 average with 14 long balls and 46 RBI into Tuesday’s contest.

Freshman shortstop Tory Bennett is batting .447 with 42 runs scored, 16 doubles and 22 stolen bases. Seniors Daphne Alstott (.396) and Aubrey Davis (.387) are also offensive catalysts, alongside freshman Haley Wills (.360), sophomore Chloe Wertz (.351) and freshman Martyne Lowrey (.333).

The balanced lineup has helped absorb the losses of first team all-state selection Bre Tjebben and all-CIML pick Kaden Pederson — both Fort Dodge linchpins on and off the field — to graduation.

Adams is 23-2 with two saves and a 1.86 earned run average from the pitcher’s circle. She has struck out 159 batters. Wills is 10-4.

The Tigers are led by junior star Alex Honnold (.504 average, 53 runs, 33 RBI, 13 doubles, 8 HR). Senior Jasmine Spann is hitting .360 with 6 home runs, 30 RBI and 10 doubles, while classmates Megan Decker (.408, 20 runs, 9 doubles), Maggie House (.377, 32 runs, 34 RBI, 8 doubles) and Haley Gatica (.354, 22 RBI) are also potent at the plate for Bakey.

Gatica is 15-4 with a 1.72 ERA as Valley’s ace.

Adams is seeing her current players start to embrace the concept of creating their own legacy, while respecting the traditions and track record of the program.

“Jalen knows all about the great pitchers who have come through here, from Bre most recently on back. Tristin can name all of the all-state catchers,” Adams said. “Tory at shortstop. Loghen at first base. Aubrey at second. Daph in the outfield. The list goes on.

“We have so many outstanding former names and personalities — many of which still keep tabs on us to this day. I think that’s a big part of maturing into becoming a leader in your own right … respecting not just who and what you represent today, but being aware of (the lineage) and the history you’re a part of when you wear that Dodger uniform.”

Adams called her FDSH softball family — from the players and parents through the staff and community — “second to none.”

“The list is a mile long of people who make all of this work,” Adams said. “I wouldn’t trade any of it or them for the world. They’ve been with us basically since day one.

“I need every single one of them. I need the kids in our dugout to support and prepare us. I need my amazing assistants, from Kenzie (Alstott), Molly (Matthes) and Aaron (Miller) through Bre (Tjebben), Cassie (Tjebben) and even Jaci (Schreiber) and Bre (Drees), who do a ton behind the scenes. I need the continued love and support of the moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas. And we need the fans and local businesses who have supported us every step of the way, win or lose. All of these people are a huge part of this program and its heartbeat.”