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Messenger photo by Eric Pratt: Fort Dodge baseball’s comeback letter winners are, front row (left to right): Rylan Kingrey, Jace Johnson, Jaxson Dencklau and Royce Pederson. Back: Jase Nekvinda, Landen Grandors, Landen Hout and Karch Smith.

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the 2024 Fort Dodge baseball team, but it also comes with a lot of potential.

Three Dodger seniors will guide the ship and help usher in a talented era of underclassmen.

Seniors Jace Johnson, Landen Hout and Karch Smith will be the dugout leaders, while Fort Dodge will mix veterans with a strong freshman class.

Eight newcomers to Fort Dodge will likely see the field, with four sophomores and five juniors on the roster as well.

“This group is a little different” said FDSH head coach Blake Utley. “They played baseball at a higher level (at a younger age) and they expect big things from themselves. The motivation is there.

“They work very hard and have great knowledge of the game. Most importantly, they love to compete.

Utley still hasn’t decided on a lineup or batting order, and the 12th-year head coach is comfortable with that idea.

“I was impressed with our aggressiveness at the plate. » Utley said. “Everyone will be competing for a job, and their offensive performance will help dictate who gets the job.

“That’s how we climb and try to get to the next level.” We cannot rest on our laurels. We will not be complacent.

Utley views his three senior players as the key to getting the ball rolling.

“With the three seniors and our junior class returning, we need to have good leadership to show them the ropes,” Utley said. “They all came out, talked to the new guys and got them ready for college baseball.”


Fort Dodge returns 16 of 20 wins from the 2023 pitching rotation, led by juniors Jase Nekvinda, Royce Pederson and Landen Grandors.

The Dodgers are dealing with injury issues this spring, but Utley is hopeful the health of all three will continue to improve.

“We have hope for these guys when they get healthy. » Utley said. “They worked well with our younger children.”

Pederson pitched 46.1 innings and struck out 38 batters, with a 4.08 ERA. The Grandors worked 39.1 innings and fanned 39 of them.

Nekvinda earned four wins and sported a 3.16 ERA with 23 strikeouts.

All three faced off-season injury issues.

“We want teams to win instead of giving it to them. » Utley said. “Our pitching is what’s going to determine our lineup in most games.”

Utley will also look at a group of four freshmen to add some arm strength. Will McElroy, Tanner Pederson, Tru McBride and Cal Pederson should all gain time on the tires.

“Will had a great offseason and preseason. He builds and has a good mentality while making adjustments to the game.” Utley said. “Tanner is super athletic and puts in a lot of effort. He works fast on the mound and changes speeds.

“Tru is a strong, physical freshman. Cal throws a good slider and is reliable.

Junior Brayden Reimers and sophomores Rylan Lara, Dalton Eckley and Jaxson Dencklau will also be in the rotation.

“Rylan is very confident” Utley said. “Dalton and Jaxson saw time last year and are looking to improve.

“Brayden had an outstanding year as a pitcher for JV-1 and will be part of our main rotation. He’s really had a great offseason and we’re excited for him to show his improvements.


Hout will be the Dodgers’ starting catcher, while freshman Bo Marsh will also look to earn time behind the plate. Sophomore Caiden Fraher is also in the mix.

"Landen played the most innings as a senior," Utley said. “Bo is so fun to watch, but the kids have a lot to learn.”

Senior Grant Williams suffered a football injury and required reconstructive surgery on his UCL, which will leave him out for the season. Williams hit .318 for the Dodgers and drove in 14 runs.

"You’re talking about losing an all-conference player," Utley said. “Grant’s leadership will certainly be missed. I know he misses it, and it’s just a really unfortunate situation. You can tell he’s disappointed, and so are we, but that’s the way sports go sometimes.

Smith will be the steady hand at first base for the Dodgers. Last year he hit .276 with 20 RBIs.

“Karch is stable” Utley said. “He has a strong bat and is patient and smart at the plate. He assumed his role. He doesn’t get angry often, but if he does, he doesn’t show it.

Johnson will come from a corner of the outfield and play second base for the Dodgers. Johnson and Smith are the team’s two best RBI returnees, and Johnson hit two home runs last summer.

“Jace did a good job.” Utley said. “He will be in the middle of our lineup and has improved in terms of selection.”

Freshman Tanner Pederson will roam shortstop and Dencklau moves from shortstop to third base.

“Jaxson played short last year and had a great (rookie campaign),” Utley said. “During some of our scrimmages, we just started to think third place would be a good fit.”

Lara, Cal Pederson, Royce Pederson and McBride will also spend time on the field.


Junior Rylan Kingrey will be the Dodgers’ centerfielder as a varsity regular for three years.

“Rylan had a great offseason and was one of the best defensive players in the conference last year,” Utley said. “He’s really on the cusp of turning the corner and becoming a leader of this program.”

Eckley will be on the left.

“Dalton is very good defensively” Utley said. “He looked good this spring and has improved a lot.”

Nekvinda is right. He returned after hitting .312 as a sophomore.

“Jase was good at the plate last year and continues to improve,” Utley said. “Our outfielders will be determined by who throws. Tru, Royce and Will might also spend some time there. Freshmen Davis Underberg, Kolton Schiltz and Ezrah Barkhaus are also knocking on the door.

Utley knows the influx of first-class students could lead to growing pains.

“We will make mistakes” Utley said. “Every day in practice we talk about the mental side of the game. That’s part of growing up and playing at this level: being able to handle adversity and having a short memory.


This will be Fort Dodge’s second year in the Iowa Alliance Conference North Division. Ames, Mason City, Marshalltown and Waterloo East are the other league teams on the Dodgers’ side.

“We want to see the best teams” Utley said. “We expanded our schedule with (non-conference games against) Waukee, Southeast Polk, Sioux City North, Ankeny and Bettendorf twice.

“Increasing the difficulty helps us prepare for big games and be ready to potentially beat good teams.”

Fort Dodge opens its season Monday at Des Moines North. The Dodgers’ home debut is Tuesday against Hampton-Dumont/CAL.


Utley will be assisted by Connor McCloud. Nolan Johnson, a Southeast Valley graduate and son of former Dodger Kyle Johnson, is a volunteer assistant.

Former FDSH star player and former Iowa Central baseball coach Rick Pederson will coach JV1 and will also be in the varsity dugout. Nick Pederson and Jerry Chada – also two former Dodgers – round out the team.



Seniors – Jace Johnson, Landen Hout, Karch Smith.

Juniors – Jase Nekvinda, Brayden Reimers, Landen Grandors, Royce Pederson, Rylan Kingrey.

Sophomores – Dalton Eckley, Rylan Lara, Jaxson Dencklau, Caiden Fraher.

Freshmen – Cal Pederson, Kolton Schlitz, Davis Underberg, Ezrah Barkhaus, Will McElroy, Tru McBride, Tanner Peterson, Bo Marsh.


May 13 — at North Des Moines, 3:30 p.m.; 14 — Hampton-Dumont, 7:21 p.m. — Waterloo East, 5 p.m.; 24 — at Waukee, 5 p.m.; 27 — at Mason City, 1 p.m.; 29 — Des Moines East, 5 p.m.; 31 — in Sioux zCity East, 1 p.m.; in Sioux City West, 4 p.m.

June 5 — at Ottumwa, 5 p.m.; 6 — Marshalltown, 5 p.m.; 7-8 — Fort Dodge Tournament; 10 — at Ames, 5 p.m.; 12 — Des Moines Lincoln, 5 p.m.; 13 — Waterloo East, 5 p.m.; 17 — Mason City, 5 p.m.; 19 — Des Moines Roosevelt; 22 — at the Saydel tournament; 24 — at Marshalltown, 5 p.m.; 25 — Storm Lake, 7 p.m.; 27 — Ames, 5 p.m.

July 2 — Webster City, 7 p.m.; 5-6 – at the Clinton tournament; 8 — Ankeny, 7 p.m.

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