Looking to put their best foot forward at the most opportune time, the Fort Dodge baseball team will play host to Sioux City East tonight in a Class 4A, Substate 1 final.
First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Rogers Sports Complex.
Matt Elsbecker's fourth-ranked Dodgers (33-7 overall) are seeking their third state bid in the past four years and fifth overall since 2005. CIML Iowa Conference champion FDSH has reeled off 14 victories in its past 17 games, including a 6-0 shutout of Sioux City West in their tournament opener Friday.
"Each day is different, but right now, we're focused on one game at a time," said Elsbecker, who has guided the Dodgers to 25 wins or more in eight straight years. "We have a group of guys that always shows up and plays hard. We've earned the right to host this game, and now it's up to us to use it to our advantage."
Earlier this season at the Sioux City East Invitational, the Dodgers prevailed over the Black Raiders (34-8) by an 8-2 count. Fort Dodge has actually ousted East from tournament play in each of the past two summers. With a trip to Principal Park in Des Moines on the line a year ago, the Dodgers downed the Black Raiders, 4-2.
Junior Tyler Vaughn (9-0; 59 2/3 IP, 62 H, 52 K, 2.11 ERA), senior Will Gormally (5-3; 49 2/3 IP, 43 H, 50 K, 2.82 ERA), senior Luke Vandermaten (6-3; 44 IP, 45 H, 42 K, 3.66 ERA) and sophomore JC Hatcher (5-0; 40 IP, 25 H, 24 K, 2.28 ERA) are all options to start on the mound this evening for the Dodgers. The FDSH pitching staff has registered eight shutouts on the season, while holding opponents to an impressive .216 batting average.
Gormally (.446 BA, 58 H, 40 R, 31 RBI), Vandermaten (.420 BA, 55 H, 23 R, 20 RBI), junior Devon Harms (.381 BA, 37 H, 20 RBI, 15 R) and Hatcher (.378 BA, 34 H, 23 R, 22 RBI) are the top offensive threats for the Dodgers, who own a 4A best .372 team batting average.
"We have a very nice challenge ahead of us against a very good Sioux City East team," Elsbecker said. "(The Black Raiders) have won 34 games and definitely have our attention and respect."
Winners of 22 of its past 23 games, East eliminated Ames (9-7) and city rival North (9-3) in its two previous tournament contests.
Spearheading the Black Raider charge are junior Dom Thompson-Williams (.548 BA, 85 H, 64 R, 42 SB, 30 RBI, 25 2B), junior Tyler Franko (.386 BA, 51 H, 42 RBI, 37 R, 15 SB), junior Brandon Carlson (.381 BA, 48 H, 43 R, 37 RBI) and junior Taylor Pluim (.377 BA, 62 RBI, 52 H, 36 R). East, which owns a .354 team batting average, has swiped 112 bases in 128 attempts (87.5 percent).
Thompson-Williams (6-2; 50 IP, 30 H, 61 K, 2.80 ERA), sophomore Jake Westphal (5-1; 39 2/3 IP, 31 H, 40 K, 3.18 ERA) and sophomore Hayden Godfrey (6-0; 33 1/3 IP, 34 H, 30 K, 1.68 ERA) could each potentially toe the rubber for the Black Raiders.
Elsbecker and the Dodgers know the importance of being able to play in front of their own fans.
"We encourage all Dodger fans to wear some black and red (tonight) and come out and give us a little extra boost," said Elsbecker. "We will do our absolute best to represent our community and school the best we can. It will be a lot of fun."