Dodgers face Jaguars for Class 5A crown
Fort Dodge has spent an entire season — and actually, the better part of the last decade with this particular group of players — perfecting its pace.
Aggressive, yet efficient. Assertive, yet mindful. Emotional, yet composed. Relaxed, yet unflappable.
In sports, it’s the kind of balance only obtained through experience. So now, after years of adversity, challenges, successes and failures, the Dodger softball program has arrived at the 2021 championship crossroads.
Top-seeded Fort Dodge takes on Ankeny Centennial on Friday night, with the winner staking claim to the Class 5A state title. First pitch is slated for 7:30 p.m. on Kruger Seeds Field — Diamond 1 — at Rogers Park.
The Dodgers (37-4 overall) haven’t just been working their way back to this moment since last season, when they lost to Cedar Rapids Kennedy in the finals. This is a process they’ve been hand-crafting since most of them could barely pick up a bat or fit their hands into a glove.
“We’ve learned so much about ourselves and how to handle situations,” said FDSH head coach Andi Adams, who has her 12th Dodger squad at the state tournament. “And it’s almost never been easy. We were right about some things. We were wrong about others. We’ve had a lot of fun, won a lot of games, had some tough losses and difficult moments. But it’s all led us to this point.
“We dealt with the hurdle of making it here. Then getting to the semifinals. Then (in 2020) reaching the championship game. It’s all a part of growing and maturing. You rarely see programs just skip those steps and roll their way to the top. It’s a big reason why I’m confident we’ll be ready (Friday night): we can say we’ve been there and done that, and through it all, we’re still standing.”
These CIML Iowa Conference rivals know each other well. Fort Dodge won three of the four regular-season matchups with the sixth-seeded Jaguars (33-9), though every contest was competitive.
A month ago, at Rogers Park, the Dodgers swept Centennial, 1-0 and 3-2. And last year, in the state semifinals, FDSH topped the Jaguars by a 5-3 count.
“They’re tough, and our games always seem to be very tight,” Adams said of Centennial. “We know them. They know us. There won’t be many surprises. It will be about who steps up in the big moments and makes plays, either (at the plate) or (in the field).
“We’re staying loose, having fun and ready to treat it like it’s just another one in a long stretch of tests. (With nine starters back in 2021), I think we took a lot away from facing Kennedy (in the finals last summer) — both in terms of what it takes and what we want.”
Junior Jalen Adams (24-1) was in the pitcher’s circle for that championship loss. The first team all-stater has relied even more on her defense this postseason and found a better rhythm when it comes to pacing herself individually — despite already being arguably the most complete player in the entire state.
“Last year, all I tried to do was strike everyone out. Now I’m trusting my teammates even more than I have (in the past),” Adams said. “I know I have the best defense in the state behind me. That takes a lot of stress off my pitching and helps me stay more loose.”
Adams will be opposed by Jaguar senior Sam Klug (11-5), who has twirled a pair of state gems in victories over Iowa City High (3-0) and Pleasant Valley (8-1). Klug has surrendered just seven hits and one run in 14 innings of work at Rogers Park, with 18 strikeouts.
Against the Dodgers this season, Klug has given up just two runs in 13 innings. Adams and Fort Dodge prevailed both times, though, 4-1 and 1-0.
The Dodgers are 31-1 since dropping the nightcap of a doubleheader at Centennial on June 1. In the semifinals on Wednesday night, senior all-state catcher Tristin Doster (.540 batting average, 13 home runs, 53 RBI) slugged a three-run longball and Adams (.420, 5 HRs, 28 RBI) went deep as well in an 8-3 victory over Waukee.
“Honestly, we are so ready,” said FDSH junior shortstop Tory Bennett, who is batting .455 and leads the squad in runs scored. “We have been dreaming of this since we were 5 years old. We are finally ready to take what we have been working all our lives for.
“Our team just has so much fun together that it takes the nerves away and it causes us to just play loose and play our game. We all know that this is our last time to step onto the field with our seniors, and we want this to be as memorable as it can be for them while getting the task done.”
Fort Dodge, in its 50th season of softball, is making its 17th state appearance all-time. This is the Dodgers’ second trip to the finals, after just their third-ever state semifinal showing on Wednesday.
Centennial split from Ankeny High School in 2013. Ankeny High softball is as tradition-rich as it gets, though: the school has reached state 27 times, with 13 state championships.
The Jaguars, who were third a year ago in 5A, set a school record for victories this summer.
Temperatures are expected to be 87 degrees at gametime, with a south wind at 9 miles per hour.