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FIELD OF DREAMS

At long last, Dodgers are state champions

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: The Fort Dodge softball team runs to retrieve the Class 5A state championship trophy after defeating Ankeny Centennial 2-0 on Friday night at Rogers Park. In their fourth straight trip to the state tournament, the Dodgers captured their first crown in program history. For more photos, please visit CU at messengernews.net

Good morning, Fort Dodge: for the first time in history, your Dodgers are on top of the Iowa high school softball world.

This indomitable squad — with a ballpark full of raucous fans willing them across the finish line and a legion of supporters cheering them on from all over the country — etched their name in the record books with a performance for the ages on Friday. Top-seeded (Class 5A) Fort Dodge defeated Ankeny Centennial by a 2-0 final on its home turf, Kruger Seeds Field Diamond 1, to complete a mission decades in the making.

The 50th anniversary season of Dodger softball has now been crystalized as the greatest and most memorable the town has ever witnessed. After a collective exhale from a program thirsting for a title, the celebration began, spilling deep into the night at Rogers Park and in locations all over the community.

Jalen Adams — a junior pitcher carrying the pressure of her mother’s legacy on her shoulders, not to mention the self-applied expectations of an athlete with goals in the sport stretching far beyond Fort Dodge’s city limits — delivered on a promise she’d made and kept to herself with everything on the line. Mixing a scorching fastball with a devastating riseball and a screwball the sixth-seeded Jaguars hadn’t seen before, Adams controlled everything about this game by firing a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts.

Adams took a no-hitter into the final frame, and even when she finally appeared the least bit vulnerable — surrendering back-to-back hits to put the tying run at second base with one out — the University of Iowa recruit took a deep breath, peered into the stands and let the energy of well over 1,000 screaming, stomping Dodgers flow through her veins for one final two-punchout push.

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Fort Dodge hoists the Class 5A state championship trophy on Friday night at Rogers Park.

“Oh my gosh, our fans were incredible,” smiled Adams, a dominant player who finds a way to be both stoic and silly depending on the circumstance. “When they got two runners on (and broke up the no-hitter), I needed (the extra motivation) to push me through. We all did. That’s what is so special about being able to play (for a state championship) on your home field. The crowd was there to pick us up and give us (the closing charge) we needed.

“The final out (fittingly, an Adams strikeout) was basically surreal. Just crazy. It was almost like an out-of-body experience.”

Fort Dodge (38-4 overall) never seemed to be threatened or lose control, despite the lead being relatively precarious until the very end. The Dodgers peppered the field with 10 hits, but stranded eight runners on base — never getting the breakthrough they were hoping for to open the floodgates.

That’s not to say FDSH wasn’t clutch, though. Senior Chloe Wertz — given a new life after appearing to ground out on what was flagged for an illegal pitch — sent a two-out laser beam over the centerfield fence to get the Dodgers on the board in the bottom of the second inning. It was just the second home run of the season for the four-year leftfielder, but it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

“I just wanted to get something going (with a two-out rally),” Wertz said. “To be honest, I didn’t even know it went out at first. I heard everyone screaming and I was just running as fast as I could, hoping to get (an extra-base hit).

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Fort Dodge senior Chole Wertz rounds the bases after hitting a home run on Friday in the Class 5A state championship game.

“We’re just having a blast. To go out like this as a senior, winning a state championship — it’s the fairytale ending. This (the atmosphere and postgame celebration) is what Dodger softball is all about.”

Andi Adams, in her 21st season at the helm and with her 12th state-qualified FDSH team, has experienced a little of everything during her time as head coach. It’s a tenure of overwhelming success — despite being just 45 years old, Adams has already won over 700 games, while garnering the respect of her peers and the game’s top minds — but this championship experience had eluded her program time and time again.

That all changed as the clock struck 9:15 p.m. on Friday. Her daughter’s group of teammates and close friends — whom Adams had ostensibly raised on the diamond since they were old enough to pick up a softball — had fittingly cleared the final hurdle.

“You spend so much time and energy preparing them physically and mentally. As I’ve always said, just making the state tournament is a blessing and something you should never take for granted,” Adams almost whispered from her hoarse voice and emotionally-drained stance, as well-wishers stopped for hugs, pictures and words of support. “Then you struggle to get past (the quarterfinals) for so long (the Dodgers were 1-9 before 2020 in opening-round contests, predominantly fighting from behind in an underdog role). And (last summer), we finally reached the finals. We were so close, we could taste it. But it wasn’t our time yet. We had one more hard lesson to learn.

“Honestly, looking back at everything we’d gone through as a program (over the last two-plus decades), there was just this sense of calm all day (Friday) leading up to the game. In a weird way, we were basically at peace. Confident, loose — I don’t want to say we knew we were going to win, but I had a feeling that this was going to be it. I could see it in our players’ eyes. They were ready. Really ready.”

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: Fort Dodge head coach Andi Adams hugs senior Tristin Doster on Friday night after the Dodgers captured the Class 5A state title.

Jalen Adams (25-1), the obvious choice for captain of the all-tournament squad, flanked Wertz’s homer with her second leadoff double in three innings to start the third. A Tory Bennett fly ball sent courtesy runner Reese Pederson to third base, and eighth-grader Mariah Myers made it 2-0 with an RBI-groundout.

The Dodgers had more chances, but Centennial senior Sam Klug — who had faced FDSH twice during the regular season and surrendered only one earned run in 13 innings of work — just wouldn’t crack.

“I have to give (Klug) a ton of credit,” Adams said. “I looked at the scoreboard and we were up to seven, eight, nine, 10 hits, but stayed stuck on two (runs) the rest of the way. And that wasn’t enough to ever feel completely comfortable.

“Klug is a competitor. It doesn’t surprise me at all that (the 33-10 Jaguars) were who we had to get past in the end (despite only being the sixth seed). (ACHS) head coach Brett Delaney has an outstanding program. We respect them and the way they fought.”

This contest, this night and this championship, though, unequivocally belonged to the Red and Black.

“Just an amazing feeling,” Jalen Adams said. “You can’t really put something like this into words. I mean, I was born right in the middle (of the Dodgers’ 2002-06 state tourney run). I’ve been at these games since I was in a stroller. To be able to do this for each other, the program and just the city of Fort Dodge in general is something special we’ll always remember.”

All-state senior catcher Tristin Doster, the Dodgers’ single-season batting average champion and all-time home run leader, had two hits and landed on the all-tournament team with Adams, Bennett and Myers. Sophia Klinger, also a senior, delivered three hits.

Fort Dodge’s trifecta of starting 12th-graders went a combined 7-for-9 when it mattered most.

“I’m so proud of this entire team, but especially the seniors, who went out in a way they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Coach Adams said. “They’ve been by my side for so long. I’ve pushed them, but also learned from them how to balance things out and have fun. This group helped me become a better coach and a better person.

“None of this is easy. It’s such a grind. And any little thing can tip the scales either in your favor or away from you. But I look around now…I’m able to really enjoy this and share something special with Jalen, who I finally feel comfortable bragging about. What a performance. She’s my heart and my soul. To take a step back and see the people who have been there for us from day one — win or lose — celebrating here with us…it’s even better than I’d ever imagined.”

And it’s no longer just a dream.

FORT DODGE 2, ANKENY CENTENNIAL 0

Centennial 000 000 0 — 0 2 1

Fort Dodge 011 000 x — 2 10 0

WP–Jalen Adams (25-1; 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K); LP–Sam Klug (11-6; 6 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K). 2B–FD: Jalen Adams 2; AC: Payton Drefke. HR–FD: Chloe Wertz. SB–FD: Sophia Klinger, Haley Wills.

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