Packers: Time to 'show up and play ball'
The Packers baseball team currently sits second in the East Region with a 9-1 conference record and 19-3 overall.
Though the likelihood of them falling to third place is slight, West Fargo coach Brett Peterson knows that anything is possible - especially during tournament time.
"You can throw out all the records when (the East Region Tournament) starts," he said. "You still have to show up and play ball. Every year, there's always at least one No. 5 through 8 (ranked) team that gets in; sometimes two."
With upsets as common as mud in April, the Packers need to keep on their toes throughout the postseason.
Their final games of the season were doubleheaders on the road: the first set Monday against Grand Forks Central, with the finale Tuesday against Grand Forks Red River. Results were not in by press time.
All the Packers had to do was win one out of the four to clinch second in the Eastern Dakota Conference, Peterson said. If the Roughriders were to "run the table and we couldn't get a win, they could possibly pass us," he said. And if No. 1 Fargo South had lost both their games Monday and Tuesday, the Packers may have had a chance to scoot to first place.
Either way, the Packers had the possibility to move up or down, Peterson said. To make sure they do the former and avoid the latter, "we have to take care of business."
The Packers could have a nine-day stretch without a game before the EDC tournament May 27-28 in West Fargo. Peterson said they were attempting to line up a game against Moorhead last week, but "it's too early to tell right now," he said.
West Fargo is in much better shape this season than last season, in which it finished tied for fourth in the EDC before missing a state-tournament berth for the second year in a row.
The reason for the strong play this year has been a balance in every aspect of the field - defense, offense and pitching - but it's the guys on the mound who have turned heads.
Matt Strahm and Tanner Dahl have been cranking out the strikes. "When you look at the stats, their numbers are phenomenal," Peterson said. "Their strikeout-to-walk ratio is excellent."
Last week, West Fargo swept a doubleheader against Fargo North (6-6, 8-15). In Game 1, Strahm struck out 11 batters and Dahl picked up a save in the 3-1 victory. Strahm improved his record to 4-1, and sits with a 0.54 earned run average with 46 strikeouts and just 10 walks. Dahl is 3-0 with two saves, a 0.68 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 12 walks.
The Packers also have discovered a closer in Spencer Flaten. The senior is "our bulldog. He throws hard and mixes it up," Peterson said.
Flaten has two saves on the season from eight strikeouts and two walks, all while giving up no hits.
"Our starting pitchers have been outstanding," Peterson said.
Other pitchers pulling their weight include Bryce Jorgenson and Karson Mapes. Jorgenson is 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA, while Mapes is 3-0 with a 3.36 ERA. "Both have given us good innings," Peterson said. "Either one will be our No. 3" during the EDC tournament.
If West Fargo has a weak point, it is at offense, Peterson said. But calling it "weak" isn't very accurate, as the Packers have put up 56 runs while allowing just 12.
"We're doing some of the small-ball things better than before," Peterson said "We're getting the bunts down better. We have seen some improvement there."
Last week's Game 1 and Game 2 leaders put up similar numbers. Strahm went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in the first game, while Flaten did the same in the second. On the season, Strahm has amassed 31 hits, 22 RBIs, and two homers on 70 at bats to give him a slugging percentage of .643. Meanwhile, Flaten leads West Fargo in runs with 27, while amassing 17 RBIs, 24 hits and a slugging percentage of .412.
Defensively, the Packers are as strong as ever.
"We've just kind of continued to do what we've been doing all year," Peterson said.
But they recently took a blow with the loss of Andy Young. The sophomore second baseman and shortstop is out for the remainder of the season with what was discovered as a broken wrist he sustained during the basketball season. The bothersome wrist had plagued Young for most of the year, but the extent of the injury wasn't known until just recently.
"He was still playing phenomenal defense, but two weeks ago (his wrist) was really bugging him," Peterson said. "He kind of gutted it out."
Peterson said Young likely will miss most of the Legion Baseball season.
"It's a big hit to the team," he said.
The Packers will have to manage without the .912 fielding percentage sophomore.
"The people we've moved around have done their job," Peterson said. "We may not be as strong, but we're definitely not hurting."
Players such as Tucker Bucholz, Dan Hoy and Jacob Kiefer will need to continue to stay tough, something Peterson doesn't doubt will happen.
"I think there's definitely a good vibe right now. If you can finish one or two (in the conference), that's always a positive thing.," he said. There are "a lot of good senior (leaders) on this team, most of who went to the EDC tournament last year.
"We just have to continue to do what we've been doing. We'll carry some good momentum going into the tournament."