Numbers don't lie: Patriots had solid year
The West Fargo American Legion Under-18 team didn't get the state title they were shooting for. Looking back on the season, however, there really is nothing to be ashamed of.
The Patriots took their curtain call after going 1-2 at last weekend's North Dakota Class A state tournament in Bismarck. They entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed after winning the Eastern Division championship, and proved the seeding early with a first-round, 10-4 thumping over Williston.
But they stumbled against their next opponents, getting blanked 6-0 by Minot before a close 6-5 loss in a loser-out game against Mandan.
It was the Patriots' second straight trip to the state tournament, and a near mirror of last season when they were bumped in as many games.
Still, this season overall was vastly superior. The Patriots finished the regular season at the top of their game with a 30-16 overall record, compared with last season's barely .500 team.
This year's Patriots were led by a plethora of players at the plate and mound.
Though 13 players took the mound at various times during the year, there were three workhorses who did so with vicious consistency.
Matt Strahm led the Patriots with a perfect regulars season (7-0) and 1.96 earned run average. The incoming Neosho County (Chanute, Kan.) Community College freshman racked up a team-high 82 strikeouts in 55 innings, while allowing just 12 earned runs and 33 hits.
Nipping close at Strahm's heals was Kolby Schmidt, who recently signed a letter of intent to attend Williston State College. He finished with a 5-2 record, 20 strikeouts and a 2.62 ERA, while allowing 51 hits and a home run after facing 207 batters.
Rounding out the Top 3 for pitching was Tanner Dahl. The incoming West Fargo High School senior led the Patriots in innings pitched with 59, and threw more than 1,000 pitches to grab 64 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA. Dahl was 8-1 on the season.
Where the pitching corp laid the track, the Patriots' batters drove the engine.
Spencer Flaten once again led by example. A soon-to-be freshman at Jamestown College, Flaten led the Patriots with a .430 batting average. He tallied 41 runs, 11 doubles, 21 runs batted in, and team highs in triples (7) and stolen bases (17).
Close behind Flaten was Chance Bitzer. A player from Moorhead, Bitzer proved early on that he was deadly behind the plate. With a .428 batting average, he led the Patriots in five different categories, including singles (32), doubles (16), home runs (10), RBIs (47) and slugging percentage (.775).
Cole Mapes led the Patriots in runs with 45. Mapes, who is off from his freshman year at NDSU-Bottineau, put up a .341 batting average and also smoked three dingers. It was his last year of eligibility to play Legion Baseball.
Third for batting average was Tucker Bucholz. His .393 batting average came off 14 RBIs, 12 singles, 9 doubles and a homer. To top it all off, Bucholz also was hit 15 times by pitches, which easily put him as No. 1 for the Patriots.
Schmidt also proved his utility-playing style by putting up good batting numbers. He wound up with .362 batting average, on 13 runs, 13 RBIs and 2 triples.
Even though West Fargo didn't get the big championship win at state, they still proved they were one of the top teams in the state with a standup regular season and division title.