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Top seed, lofty goals for Dodgers at state

No. 1 Fort Dodge isn’t taking anything for granted as unusual season reaches final week

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge softball team members include, front row (left to right): Martyne Lowrey, Tory Bennett, Loghen Schnetzer, Katelyn Werning, Malia Lowrey and Maia Davis. Back: Maggie Elsbecker, Aeva Alstott, Jalen Adams, Sophia Klinger, Chloe Wertz, Dallas Richardson, Haley Wills, Reese Pederson, Tristin Doster and Lydia Lara.

The balance between confidence and humility is always a fine line to walk in sports — especially for the state’s top-ranked team.

Fort Dodge enters this week’s Class 5A tournament at Rogers Park with the belief level of a champion and the attitude of an underdog. The No. 1-seeded Dodgers, seeking the school’s first-ever softball title, face Bettendorf in the quarterfinal round to open play on Monday.

First pitch is set for 11 a.m. on Kruger Seeds Field Diamond 1.

Head coach Andi Adams has an FDSH squad at state for the fifth time in the last six years and 11th overall since 2002. The next step is to take it to the next level and keep the momentum going as the pressure and expectations mount.

“You put yourself in position by getting here, which is never easy in the first place,” said Adams, who has 685 career victories on her resume, including 632 as a Dodger. “As simple as it sounds, too, you have to believe you can win it. If you don’t approach (the tourney) with that mentality — if you’re happy with just making it — winning three games against the best of the best isn’t going to happen.

“We also know from experience that records and rankings mean nothing now. There is no magic wand you wave to get here. There is no special potion. Every team is good and capable now, as we see time and time again. It’s all about executing the way you know you can and having fun doing it. Again, finding that balance — between taking it seriously, but also, enjoying the moment — is the formula for success.”

After being cleared to have a season in the midst of a global pandemic, Fort Dodge quickly found its rhythm and went wire-to-wire as 5A’s top-rated team. The Dodgers have posted a 26-3 overall record with a makeshift schedule sans a lot of the usual heavyweights. None of the seven other large-class qualifiers — Cedar Rapids Kennedy, West Des Moines Valley, Waukee, Ankeny Centennial, Pleasant Valley, Muscatine or Bettendorf — were FDSH opponents, which is an anomaly compared to its typical rugged slate.

The Dodgers lead the entire state in batting average (.424) and runs scored (274). They’re also in the Top-5 for all classes in hits, doubles, total bases, on-base percentage and run differential.

Sophomore all-stater Jalen Adams, the coach’s daughter, is hitting a robust .626 from her lead-off position in the order. Junior Tristin Doster (.553 average, 7 home runs, 42 RBI), senior Loghen Schnetzer (.500, 9, 45) and sophomore Tory Bennett (.446) are also tough outs, with Doster and Schnetzer ranking in the Top-5 overall in RBI; Adams for average, hits, doubles and total bases; and Bennett for runs and stolen bases. Doster is the same for doubles and total bases as well.

Schnetzer is the school’s career home run leader.

Adams continues to emphasize the importance of her 5-9 hitters, who “are often the difference-makers in a close game.” Sophomores Haley Wills (.338 BA, 23 RBI), Martyne Lowrey (.394, 15) and Malia Lowrey (.346, 17) have all been key contributors this season, along with juniors Sophia Klinger (.357, 11) and Chloe Wertz (.286, 12). Sophomore Maia Davis is batting .311.

“That balance is huge. We have to keep picking each other up,” Adams said. “I really think they’re all ready. This is their time. Their dance. Now, it’s the fun part. This is what they’ve been working for ever since they were little. To be ready, humble and hungry.”

Jalen Adams has also experienced a brilliant season from the pitcher’s circle, going a 5A-best 18-1 with a miniscule 0.57 earned run average. The right-hander has struck out 148 batters in just 98 innings, and opponents are only batting .115 against her.

Adams surrendered 42 hits and eight earned runs. Wills (8-2, 2.11 ERA) has been a formidable No. 2 starter.

Fort Dodge has committed less than an error per game behind its pitchers, as the Dodgers sport a .958 fielding percentage.

“Making the plays behind our pitchers is going to be as important as anything,” Adams said. “You can’t give opponents extra outs or opportunities at state. They’ll capitalize.”

Bettendorf is 19-6 overall. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs defeated traditional powers Cedar Rapids Jefferson (11-8) and No. 7 Johnston (5-2) to reach the quarterfinals.

“They’ve got a lot of pop in that lineup,” Adams said, referring to Bett’s 35 homers as a team. “They’re a really good ballclub, just like everyone else in the field. You have to try and expose weaknesses, but a lot of times, you’re just picking your poison. Five of the Top-6 (ranked) schools and seven of the Top-9 are here (for 5A). We’ll have to earn it, like always.

“I honestly think one of the best compliments we receive is when fans notice how close we are as a team. They’re more like sisters than just teammates. They do everything together. And I think that chemistry shows up in how we play and how we compete. I’ve said from day one that we aren’t the biggest or most talented roster, but they play for each other and have a special bond that you just don’t see a lot anymore.”

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