The first blow landed by the Johnston boys Monday night ended up being more than just a body shot to Fort Dodge.
Behind their grinding style of play, the Dragons avenged an earlier season loss to the Dodgers, and ended FDSH's season in the process, scoring a 47-30 victory in a Class 4A, Substate 2 quarterfinal.
Johnston (10-12 overall) will now meet Des Moines Roosevelt (16-5) in a semifinal affair Friday night in Des Moines.
Fort Dodge (8-14) head coach Tom Daniel knew his team wasn't fully invested right from the start, as the Dragons jumped out to an eight-point lead and limited the Dodgers to just four first quarter points.
"Johnston scored that first basket and our kids seemed shocked," Daniel said. "We never got it going outside of a brief moment in the third quarter, and I really don't know why that was.
"Maybe it was the spotlight of the postseason. Maybe it was the fact that we beat them (FDSH earned a 46-31 road win over Johnston previously) already. For whatever reason, we just didn't have it."
JOHNSTON 47, FORT DODGE 30
Fort Dodge - Marquan Clayton 1-4 0-0 2, JC Hatcher 4-15 0-0 11, Tyler Vaughn 1-6 2-2 5, Andrew Stover 2-7 1-2 5, Blake Wilder 0-3 0-0 0, Zach Martinson 2-6 1-1 5, Jake Porter 0-0 0-0 0, Krunal Thakor 1-1 0-0 2, Cody Ellis 0-1 0-0 0, Cody Rivers 0-1 0-2 0, Brandan Schoenfeld 0-1 0-0 0, Titus Aba 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 11-43 4-7 30.
Johnston - Blake Miller 3-6 3-4 10, Nick Stitzell 4-9 6-7 16, Luke Jorgensen 2-4 0-0 4, Mike Mahanna 1-2 0-0 3, Jay Knuth 2-8 5-8 9, Grant Smith 2-2 1-2 5, Nick Neuman 0-1 0-0 0, Korbin Sesker 0-0 0-0 0, Tyler Blackburn 0-0 0-0 0, Jordan Binnie 0-0 0-0 0, Cullen Maas 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor Heitkamp 0-1 0-0 0, Casey Roshek 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-33 15-21 47.
Quarter scores: Johnston led 10-4, 21-8, 31-16. Three-point goals: Fort Dodge 4-15 (Hatcher 3-5, Vaughn 1-4, Stover 0-1, Wilder 0-1, Martinson 0-3, Ellis 0-1); Johnston 4-9 (Miller 1-2, Stitzell 2-4, Mahanna 1-1, Knuth 0-1, Neuman 0-1). Total rebounds: Fort Dodge 21, Johnston 30. Steals: Fort Dodge 2, Johnston 1. Blocked shots: Fort Dodge 1, Johnston 5. Turnovers: Fort Dodge 8, Johnston 8. Points off turnovers: Fort Dodge 3, Johnston 4. Team fouls: Fort Dodge 19, Johnston 13. Fouled out: Hatcher.
Nick Stitzell led all scorers with 16, while Blake Miller added 10 and Jay Knuth contributed nine. Knuth, who is receiving interest from Iowa State, added eight rebounds and three blocked shots, helping salt the game away in the fourth with four consecutive free throws.
"Our defensive effort was there," Daniel said. "We just never got it going on offense. We struggled to get open looks, we struggled to move the ball, and we struggled to get any easy baskets in transition."
The second was much like the first, as Johnston patiently worked the ball around and continued to play in-your-face defense. The Dragons shot 5 of 11 in the quarter, and held Fort Dodge to 3-for-19 from the first over the opening 16 minutes.
JC Hatcher scored a team-high 11, while lone senior Tyler Vaughn posted five. Andrew Stover and Zach Martinson each chipped in five points, as well.
Johnston opened up an 18-point advantage midway through the third, but the Dodgers spent the next eight minutes of play cutting it down to single digits.
Hatcher buried two three-pointers, while Vaughn added a third and Martinson converted a three-point play. The Dragons, though, hit 12 of 17 free throws in the fourth to preserve the postseason win for head coach Bobby Sandquist, who is the brother of current Iowa Central athletic director Rick Sandquist.
"We made a little run there and seemed to have a spark, but we couldn't keep it going," Daniel said. "I thought Marquan (Clayton) gave us some great minutes and rebounds (he had five), but we couldn't bottle up his energy out there.
"This is a difficult loss to take right now for everybody associated with our program. We've got to find a way to get better between now and next season. That starts right away for everybody; the players and the coaches."
Vaughn, a three-year varsity regular, finished his career with 418 points and over 100 career assists.