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West Fargo's Tanner Dahl pitches against Fargo Post 2 during an American Legion game last year. Pioneer file photo.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

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By Tyler Shoberg

The West Fargo baseball team completed its high school season June 4, after taking second place at the Class A State Tournament in Jamestown.

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Time to kick back, relax, and enjoy a summer off from school studies and sports, right?

Wrong, at least for those players on the American Legion team.

The Patriots picked up where the Packers left off, and began their season last Tuesday with a doubleheader in Jamestown; a mere three days after the state tournament.

For some, the short break - less than a day, when practice is taken into account - may seem like a lot of strain for players who, thanks largely to the weather, were just put through one of the briefest, and most frenzied spring sports seasons to date.

But the Legion season isn't all that much longer, with postseason play less than two months away.

"There's not much time to waste," Patriots head coach Bill Ibach said.

There's an upside to the quick turnover, however; the Packers finished red hot, and those players transitioning over to summer ball should carry that heat with them.

"It's a really nice thing for us, and what makes it double nice is Brett (Peterson) and his assistant, Jeremy Newman, do such a nice job," Ibach said of the Packers high school baseball coaching staff. Newman will also be assisting Ibach with the Patriots this summer, and both are in their second year with the program in their respective positions.

Case in point of West Fargo's success came during their first date of competition. The Patriots began the year with doubleheader wins over Jamestown last Tuesday. West Fargo racked up 20 runs in the stretch, while allowing just one in the first game and three in the nightcap.

The Patriots then split their following two doubleheaders on Thursday and Saturday, before getting swept in Bismarck on Sunday.

It was an up-and-down start, for sure, but Ibach sees good things ahead given his proven lineup of players.

"We definitely are going to miss the guys we lost last year, but depth-wise we have a few more arms maybe this year," he said. Big losses on West Fargo's part include that of Matt Strahm and Kolby Schmidt.

"We have some big shoes to fill," Ibach said.

While a good team needs to have strengths in all aspects of the game, without a doubt the one held with highest regard comes on the mound. And in the Patriots' case, they should be well off.

Currently, Zach Steckler and Tanner Dahl are leading West Fargo's punch with two wins apiece. Dahl, who graduated this spring and earned All-Tournament and All-State honors, leads the Patriots with 10 strikeouts and a 2.69 earned run average. Steckler is right behind Dahl with 7 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA.

Ibach also pointed to Austin Horsager, Karson Mapes and Zach Neer as pitching strengths.

"Zach (Neer) is moving on to play football at college, so we were worried he wasn't going to play with us this summer," Ibach said.

On the offensive side, the Patriots certainly aren't lacking. But one name in particular sticks out: Chance Bitzer.

The Moorhead product was a standout last year, and looks to be picking up right where he left off. Bitzer already has two home runs on the season, and is tied with Tucker Bucholz for runs batted in with nine. In 26 at bats he's connected eight times for an average of .308.

"Bitzer is a D-I hitter in my book," Ibach said. "Plus, he's a switch hitter."

Besides Bitzer, the Patriots' top sluggers include Andy Young and Land Uetz, to name two.

West Fargo will get a chance to test all of its talent in the next few weeks The Patriots face the Blues today at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Matson Field. They then host a tournament Thursday-Saturday at Veterans Memorial Field, before taking on the Royals on Monday for a doubleheader beginning at 5:30 p.m.

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