Dodgers lose heartbreaker

ANKENY – Fort Dodge baseball coach Blake Utley said he knew his team wouldn’t have many chances offensively against Ankeny in a Class 4A substate final here Wednesday.

Utley just didn’t figure the Dodgers wouldn’t get any opportunities at all.

The defending state champion and top-ranked Hawks rode the one-hit pitching of junior Keaton McKinney to a narrow 1-0 victory in front of an overflow crowd at new Ankeny High School last night.

The win moves Ankeny, now 34-7, into the state tournament next week at Principal Park in Des Moines. Utley’s first Dodger squad bows out with a 27-15 record, and FDSH will miss state for the first time since 2010.

McKinney, a University of Arkansas recruit, fanned seven batters, including five looking. He was never really threatened, not allowing a single runner to reach second base.

The Dodgers had one runner caught stealing at second, lost another at second on an attempted sacrifice bunt and watched the Hawks turn a double play to end the sixth inning.

“He is an extremely good pitcher,” Utley said of McKinney. “He can throw three different pitches for strikes with the same arm speed and changes locations well.

“There’s a reason Arkansas recruited him. We knew our opportunities would be limited. We just couldn’t ever get that runner to second base, which is too bad because our pitching and defense were outstanding.”

Senior Keegan Gormally took the hard-luck loss, throwing a gem of his own. He allowed just four hits, but never more than one in any inning.

Gormally struck out just two batters, but kept Ankeny hitters off balance all night, getting 10 flyball outs.

“We had decided before the postseason began that Keegan would pitch this game,” said Utley. “He’s good enough to beat these guys and he proved that (Wednesday).

“Keegan definitely pitched well enough to win. He’s a big-park pitcher and when we saw we would have to play this game here, we knew he would go.”

Ankeny, which beat the Dodgers 10-0 in last year’s Class 4A state championship contest, manufactured the game’s only run in the top of the fifth. Despite playing at home as the No. 1 seed, the Hawks were the visitors on the scoreboard thanks to losing the pre-game coin toss.

Matt Johnson doubled to start the frame, which turned out to be Ankeny’s last hit. He was bunted to third by catcher Cody Olson and scored on a deep sacrifice fly to center by Tanner Clayberg.

Gormally was nearly flawless the rest of the way. He allowed Clayberg to reach second in the third inning, but got a strikeout and groundout.

Brent Jones doubled with one out in the fourth, but he was erased on a strange play. Gormally caught a weak pop up down the first base line, and was then knocked down by McKinney as he was running toward first. However, Gormally had the presence of mind to throw down to second and the Dodgers got Jones in a rundown.

Fort Dodge didn’t get its first hit until senior Tommy Halligan stroked a one-out single in the fourth.?The Dodgers had just four other base runners total.

Senior Devon Harms walked in the second, but didn’t move. Sophomore Austin Halligan was hit by a pitch in the third, but was thrown out stealing.

Gormally walked in the sixth, but was erased on a fielder’s choice. Ankeny then turned a double play to end any threat.

“Ankeny sure looks like they can win state again,” said Utley. “And I don’t know if they’ll have a tougher game than they did (last night).

“I am very proud of this team. We lose a group of seniors that left it all on the field. It’s a game of opportunities – Ankeny had one chance and they came through.”

It’s the second straight year that Ankeny ended both the softball and baseball seasons for Fort Dodge. The Hawkettes beat the Dodger softball team in a regional final the past two seasons.

Fort Dodge loses seven seniors from Utley’s first squad: Eric Puls, Nathan Sunken, Tyler Vaughn, Tommy Halligan, Parker Van Zyl, Harms and Gormally.

“These guys did everything we asked of them,” said Utley. “They made the transition as smooth as could be. I am just so grateful that I got to work with kids like this. The seniors stepped up and led, which is all you can hope for.”