Patriots end year with winning record
The West Fargo Patriots didn't play like a 1-2 team at last week's state tournament in Wahpeton, but that's the record they ended up with after being eliminated.
The seventh-seeded Patriots started the tourney with an upset win over No. 2 Williston before losing to Mandan by one run in 10 innings. West Fargo was then eliminated by Minot, 2-0.
It was a solid tournament of baseball for the Patriots, who showed vast improvement this season with a 26-25 record and their first trip to the state tournament in four years.
The return trip to state started with a big 11-4 win over Williston, with West Fargo's Spencer Flaten and Jared Reber each hitting their third homers of the year.
"One of our goals this season was to at least make the state tournament, and we beat the No. 2 seed," said outfielder Eric Benson. "So we were pleased with that."
The Patriots followed up with a 6-5 extra-innings loss to Mandan and a close, shutout loss to Minot. West Fargo actually outscored its competition at state 16-12 despite getting knocked out in three games.
"We did exactly what we have been capable of all year long, putting all three elements of the game - hitting, defense and pitching - together at the same time," said Patriots coach Shannon Miller. "We lost two games by a margin of only three runs."
Minot standout Ryan Bollinger did the Patriots in single-handedly the next day, striking out 13 on the mound and driving in both of his team's runs. Bollinger was drafted last month by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Miller said that sending Bollinger to pitch against West Fargo showed that the Patriots are a respected baseball club.
"That's not how people have perceived West Fargo (in the past), but we're starting to turn peoples' heads," said the coach. "We're a force to be reckoned with, and it's only going to get better."
Next year the Patriots will likely have a handful of this year's vaunted 15-year-old class of players that made it to the Babe Ruth World Series two years in a row as 13 and 14-year-olds.
"If we get the guys back that we should, we can fill in the missing pieces with that 15-year-old team," said Miller. "You have to look at West Fargo baseball and just be impressed, or intimidated, or however you want to look at it. We're coming. We're right where we want to be."
Several Patriots will return next season, but five will run out of eligibility, including utility infielder Phil Jahnke, outfielder Aaron Sanderson, first baseman Bryan Sanderson, pitcher/catcher Jonny Schroeder and pitcher Luke Steckler. The departing players have played an important role in West Fargo's baseball transformation that saw the Patriots go through several coaches and several losing seasons. After this season, though, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of the Patriots.
"They helped kick down the door. Everything from this point on, you look back and you tip your hat to them," said Miller. "They went out and dealt with the tough years. They are trailblazers."