The Fort Dodge boys decided they weren't going to back down without a fight here Tuesday.
After losing their last two home games by a combined 37 points, the Dodgers stood toe-to-toe with undefeated and fifth-ranked (Class 4A) Ankeny Centennial nearly the entire way before bowing out by a 62-49 final.
The Jaguars (10-0 overall) scored 13 of the contest's final 17 points to prevail by a deceptive closing margin of victory. Fort Dodge (6-4) led at halftime and went into the final minute of the third quarter tied with Centennial before the visitors slowly began to wear head coach Tom Daniel's squad out.
''It all starts with effort, and our effort was at a pretty high level for nearly the entire ballgame,'' Daniel said. ''Much, much better than it was against Waukee and Johnston. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we can step up against elite competition and give ourselves a chance.
''By no means are we wanting to just show up, take our moral victory and go home, but this is a positive step and something we need to build from against a very, very good Centennial team.''
Senior guard JC Hatcher scored a career-high 26 points for the Dodgers, including 18 in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter. No other FDSH player reached double figures in scoring, though, against a Jaguar defense that was allowing only 40 points per game before Tuesday.
ANKENY CENTENNIAL 62, FORT DODGE 49
Ankeny Centennial - Byron Harp 6-14 5-7 18, Jay Schon 7-11 3-6 17, Tristen Svihovec 5-8 2-2 12, Jordan Brunkow 2-6 0-0 5, Brent Jones 1-6 0-0 2, Jamie Montgomery 2-3 0-0 6, Cale Anselme 1-1 0-1 2, Kyle Lathrop 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 24-50 10-16 62.
Fort Dodge - JC Hatcher 11-18 1-2 26, Zach Martinson 3-7 0-0 8, Krunal Thakor 3-5 0-0 8, Andrew Stover 2-7 0-0 5, Blake Wilder 0-4 2-2 2, Sam Kolacia 0-3 0-0 0, Kyle Beisch 0-1 0-0 0, Marquan Clayton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-45 3-4 49.
Quarter scores: Centennial led 14-13; Fort Dodge led 21-20; Centennial led 37-32. Three-point goals: Centennial 4-11 (Montgomery 2-3, Brunkow 1-2, Harp 1-4, Jones 0-2); Fort Dodge 8-23 (Hatcher 3-9, Thakor 2-4, Martinson 2-4, Stover 1-2, Kolacia 0-2, Wilder 0-2). Turnovers: Centennial 7, Fort Dodge 15. Total fouls: Centennial 10, Fort Dodge 18. Fouled out: Wilder.
Centennial had won its last four games - beating Marshalltown (77-31), Ankeny (84-47), West Des Moines Dowling (53-24) and Ames (67-40) - by a combined 138 points.
Last night was a completely different story. The Dodgers were down only 49-45 with the ball and under three minutes left in regulation before the Jaguars finally wiggled free thanks to a 9-0 run.
Centennial shot 64 percent from the floor in the fourth quarter, making 9 of its 14 shots.
Junior guard Byron Harp had 18 points for the Jaguars, while 6-foot-7 Jay Schon - a junior being recruited by Northern Iowa, Drake, Wichita State and others - added 17. Harp and Schon combined for 16 points in the final period.
''They just wear you down,'' Daniel said of Centennial. ''They are very tough defensively, they have a good inside-outside attack, and they don't beat themselves (the Jaguars committed just seven turnovers last night). I can see why they're 10-0.
''JC had a big game offensively, but (seniors) Blake (Wilder) and Krunal (Thakor) were in foul trouble, which really hurt us against an opponent of this caliber. I was pleased with Zach Martinson's defense (the senior had five blocks). We just couldn't get over the hump (in the second half), and the last minute of the third quarter was a real momentum shift. We had our chances, but give Centennial credit for closing it out.''
Fort Dodge, which is unbeaten on the road at 5-0, now heads to Urbandale (3-6) on Friday for a 7:45 p.m. tip.