Packers claim 16th state title
Sixteen consecutive state championships.
Just let that number sink in.
The Packers claimed their 16th straight state crown on Saturday, beating Minot Bishop Ryan 1-0.
Leading up to Saturday's championship game, the Pack topped the Bismarck High Demons 3-0 in the first round of the tournament on Thursday and the Bismarck Century Patriots 2-1 in Friday's second-round game.
Combining for six runs in three games is a fairly low total for the Packers, as is totalling just 12 hits in that span, but the team's defense kept opponents in check.
"Our bats weren't quite there this weekend, but we pitched really well and played solid defense," head coach Pat Johnson said. "I think the girls got a little caught up in everything this weekend. I just had to tell them 'calm down, you've done this a thousand times.' In the long run, everything worked out. When you don't give up any runs, it gets a little easier to do well."
Thursday's game was highlighted by junior Brittany Rheault's solo home run in the fourth inning, which broke a scoreless tie at the rainy Elmwood Park. Also in that game, pitcher Jolene Woodbury, the Eastern Dakota Conference's 2013 Outstanding Senior Athlete of the Year, gave a two-hit, 10-strikeout performance on the mound.
Rheault was the pitcher in Friday's game, striking out eight batters in seven innings of play. Woodbury, playing center field, went 2-4 at the plate with a solo home run.
After Rheault's performance in the semifinals, the decision was made to have her pitch the next day in the championship as well.
"Having her pitch gives us our best defensive lineup," Johnson said. "I told Jolene to be ready if we needed her to step in, but Brittany had her best performance on the mound this year. It was really nice to see her get the job done out there."
Rheault gave the Packers a one-hit, 16-strikeout performance in the championship game. She also hit a double in the sixth and was brought home off a base hit from second baseman Jordyn Johnson.
The state victory caps off an incredible season for Packers softball, a team that did not lose a single game against a fellow North Dakota team, with their only two losses coming against North St. Paul and Rice Lake (Wis.) in a tournament on Saturday, April 20. They went 16-0 in conference play and outscored their opponents 273-32 throughout the season.
There is another number that you should let sink in.
They also had 19 shutouts and a streak of 68 innings -- spanning from Friday, May 10 to last Friday -- without giving up a single run.
Offensively, they scored at least 10 runs in 16 of their 27 games.
The title is also a perfect swan song for the team's four seniors -- Woodbury, Johnson, third baseman Lexi Lennon and shortstop Ashley Sather.
"Those girls will be very tough to replace, but every other team is going through it too and it gives good kids the opportunity to step up and be successful," Johnson said. "We have younger girls coming up that have a chance to be a big part of next year's team."
Winning 16 straight titles is an incredibly impressive stretch, but Johnson has trouble looking at them collectively.
"I can't look at them the way everyone else does," Johnson said. "It is the first championship of this team. Every team is a different makeup. Every year is a new challenge. Maybe when I'm done, I'll be able to look at all of them as one big thing, but for now it's all one at a time for me."