Next man up

The Fort Dodge boys basketball team relies almost solely on their senior class for both scoring and leadership.

It was three underclassmen who came to the rescue at a tenuous point in the game here Monday, though, helping the Dodgers pull through and then pull away from Mason City 64-48 in a Class 4A substate quarterfinal.

Head coach Tom Daniel’s squad advances to face Jeff Horner’s Valley Tigers (13-8) on Friday in the semifinal round. Tip is set for 7 p.m. in West Des Moines.

Sophomores Sam Kolacia and Kyle Beisch and junior Alex Jackson all had pivotal moments late in the third quarter last night, just as a 15-point FDSH advantage had been sliced to five by the Mohawks. Everything came in a 35-second flurry, with Beisch draining a three-pointer, Jackson drawing a charge and Kolacia beating the buzzer with a bucket to push the Dodgers (12-9 overall) back up by double digits and into a comfort zone just when they needed it most.

”I’m just so proud of those guys for literally willing the momentum back in our favor,” Daniel said of his three reserve guards. ”It takes a lot of courage for them to step up in their first playoff games ever and do that – especially considering we had no choice at that point. Mason City was coming back, their crowd was into it, and we had three seniors in deep foul trouble and on the bench.

”We’ve talked all season long about players finding their roles and embracing them. It’s not about quantity of minutes, but quality. That was just huge, because at this point in the year, you either advance as a team or you get beat as a team. Everyone has to be invested and on board.”

Seniors JC Hatcher, Zach Martinson and Blake Wilder took the reins from there, tallying16 of the squad’s 18 points in the fourth quarter. Hatcher (20 points), Martinson (16) and Wilder (13) all reached double figures for Fort Dodge, which swept the Mohawks (5-17) for a second consecutive season. All five of its most recent victories in the longstanding series have been by at least 15 points.

The Dodgers were strong out of the gate, determined to make up for last season’s first-round home exit. They tallied 12 of the contest’s first 13 points and didn’t surrender a field goal until Mason City senior Matt Meyer beat the first quarter horn with a basket.

Fort Dodge led 25-10 midway through the second period, and still maintained a 13-point advantage at halftime. The Dodgers were up 37-23 when the Mohawks caught fire went on a 12-4 run. Mason City was 7-for-8 from the field in the third quarter to pull within striking distance.

Starting guards Andrew Stover and Krunal Thakor both picked up their fourth fouls in that frame as well, pushing Kolacia, Beisch and Jackson into extended playing time.

”Our backs were kind of against the wall (late in the third),” Daniel said. ”We were at a crossroads. To our kids’ credit, I didn’t see any panic in their eyes. It started with the plays at the end of the third; there’s a big difference between being up only six with a quarter to go and being up 11.”

The Dodgers delivered a 12-2 knockout blow halfway through the final period, with Hatcher driving baseline for a dunk and Martinson scoring to cap the burst and push the lead to a game-high 19.

”JC, Zach and Blake all came up big at different points,” Daniel said. ”Again, we’re going to go not only as they go, but every man in our rotation – especially as we get deeper into the tournament.”

Fort Dodge made 61 percent of its shots (28 of 46), with all but four field goal attempts coming from inside the three-point arc.

”It was a concentrated effort to not settle for jump shots and try go get better looks,” Daniel said. ”We felt like if we were patient enough, the high-percentage shots would open up and, for the most part, they did.”

The Dodgers dropped a 78-65 decision at Valley last month. The winner of Friday’s substate semifinal will square off with either Ankeny Centennial (16-4) or Ames (12-11) to go to state on March 4 in Ankeny.