Aces make a statement
They weren't supposed to be in the game. In fact, they should not even have been in the tournament after going 0-2 at the North Dakota American Legion Junior State Tournament in Mandan the week before.
But until the bottom of the seventh inning, the Aces managed to make one heck of a statement: we deserve to be here.
West Fargo's under-17 American Legion team held off Westphalia, Mo., until the bitter end before falling 7-6 in the opening round of the Mid-States Regional Tournament last Friday at Jack Williams Stadium in Fargo.
The Aces eventually were bumped from the tournament altogether after falling 15-2 to the Fargo Bombers on Saturday in a loser-out match.
The tournament, a precursor to the national stage, was for teams representing North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado. Because not all qualifying teams could attend, however, the Aces were invited to fill a void.
Their final game notwithstanding, West Fargo may have struck a bit of fear in its opponent Thursday. Behind nearly a full game on the mound from pitcher Matt Barclay, as well as some solid defense and offense, the Aces managed to keep Westphalia on its toes most of the afternoon.
Westphalia actually had the best chance to score first in the bottom of the second inning. Designated hitter Daniel Castillo was down 1-2 when he hit a hard grounder to left field for a single. The following batter also hit a single, giving Westphalia two runners on and no outs.
But Barclay forced Chandler Wolf to fly out before C.J. O'Brien hit a high, deep ball to center field. The ball was caught for an out, but Castillo managed to advance to third base ahead of the throw.
Barclay's next batter hit a liner straight to second base for the force out, and the inning ended without a score.
Then it was West Fargo's turn.
Ben Bruenjes led off and hit the first pitch to left field for a single. Bruenjes stole second while Devin Wagenmen was up to bat. After Wagenmen popped out, Garrett Peterson stepped into the batter box. He bunted on the first pitch, but the ball went foul. After the next pitch went wild, however, Bruenjes advanced to third base. Peterson eventually was walked and advanced to first.
With one out and the scoring run on third, Ben Huber came in with a mission. As with his predecessors, Huber showed bunt on the first pitch but couldn't connect. On the second pitch, however, he hit a far, deep double to left field that found open ground and allowed Bruenjes to score.
Luke Johnson was up next, but struck out for West Fargo's second out of the inning.
But the Aces weren't finished.
Barclay was down 1-2 when a wild pitch sent the Westphalia catcher scrambling and gave Peterson the green light over home plate.
With the score 2-0 in the Aces' favor, Barclay hit a dinger to third where the Westphalia infielder made the easy throw to first for the out.
The Aces allowed two runs in the fourth and two in the sixth while they themselves scored a run in the fourth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh. Westphalia looked like they were in trouble in the seventh, but after two runners got on with no outs, Barclay was switched out for Camran Bonnema.
Westphalia tied the game with two outs when a West Fargo outfielder dropped a high-hit ball to center field.
Bonnema chose to intentionally walk O'Brien to load the bases for the force out, but he threw four straight balls to walk the next batter and force the game-winning run.
After such a hard-fought battle, it was a tough loss to take for the Aces. But the fans could tell they didn't hold anything back, and left it all on the field.
West Fargo, at least, proved that it deserved to be there.