Season in Review: Baseball
At the beginning of the season, West Fargo baseball coach Brett Peterson was optimistic about his team's chances.
A bulk of veteran returners, in addition to "top to bottom" talent, meant the Packers were in the mix for contention from the start. A bit of extra motivation also was added by the memory of a close, one-run missed opportunity at a state tournament berth from the season before.
It was the recipe for success, and by season's end it looked like Peterson was dead on.
The Packers rebounded from last season and earned that state tournament berth with a 5-4 win over Fargo North in a qualifying game during the East Region tournament. Once in the big show, West Fargo promptly dropped its first game 13-3 to Bismarck Century. Whether out of frustration, pure talent, or both, the Packers finished their season in style by thumping their final two opponents 9-0 and 12-0 en route to a fifth-place finish.
If it wasn't for that consolation finish, anyone glancing at West Fargo baseball's statistics would have thought they were looking at champions.
Winning 2-of-3 at the state level is an achievement in and of itself, of course, but the Packers were so much more than merely the final games of the season.
As it was, West Fargo finished 12-2 in conference play and was just one game behind EDC-leading Fargo South before the postseason. The Packers were 26-6 overall on the season, successfully completing their best record to date.
Team-wise, West Fargo was a vast improvement over last season, when it finished 10-6 and 19-9 overall. This time around, the Packers had 203 runs on 252 hits, and a team slugging percentage of .377. On the pitching side, they cranked out 230 strikeouts while allowing just 91 runs, of which 64 were earned. The team earned run average was 2.04, and they didn't relinquish a single home run.
Pitching aces shine bright
Peterson noted earlier this spring that he thought the pitching corps would carry the team, whereas offense may take a bit to get rolling.
His forecast was accurate to the letter. Aces on the mound such as Tanner Dahl, Matt Strahm and Bryce Jorgenson took the reins from the get-go. By season's end, their numbers were impressive, to say the least.
Dahl, who should stand to lead his piers as a senior next season, finished the year on top of the Packers leader board. He was 4-2 with two shutouts on the season after starting seven games, and finished with team-bests in saves (2) and ERA (0.49). Dahl earned both All-EDC and All-State honors.
Close behind Dahl was senior strikeout-master Strahm. Finishing 6-2 on the season with two shutouts, Strahm racked up an impressive 70 strikeouts while allowing a team-best 11 runs and only seven earned runs. He finished with an ERA of 1.07, while walking just 19 batters. Strahm was named to both All-Conference and All-State teams, and was the Packers' MVP. He also was the first West Fargo player to be named North Dakota Senior Athlete of the Year.
Jorgenson was sterling after compiling a 7-0 record. Voted Most Improved by his team, the senior struck out 25 batters and had one shutout, while getting just 12 runs and 9 earned runs. Jorgenson also only compiled 13 walks, and hit just one batter.
A player to watch for next year on the mound is Karson Mapes. Splitting his time with the junior varsity and varsity teams, the sophomore earned a 4-0 record on the mound.
Once the season got rolling along, the West Fargo offense busted loose.
Strahm proved himself quite the utility player with his prowess on the mound and at the plate. With 103 plate appearances, he had team highs in hits (42), doubles (9), home runs (2) and runs batted in (29). Strahm also struck out just four times, while finishing with a .420 batting average and a .573 slugging percentage.
Spencer Flaten was another slugger to be reckoned with. The senior second-baseman made it to the plate 100 times, and had team highs in runs (38), singles (32) and amassed a jaw-dropping 32 stolen bases. Flaten tallied 25 RBIs, and had a .380 batting average and .440 slugging percentage. He also earned All-Conference honors and was named the Packers' Hardest Worker.
Past Flaten and Strahm, West Fargo's depth becomes immediately apparent. Players such as Braden Schmid, Austin Dillard, Landon Uetz, Jorgenson, Andy Young, Dan Ho, and Jake Kiefer all made impacts throughout the season.
Kiefer was second on the team in runs with 23. The senior also was second in steals with 8, but struck out a team-high 18 times. Jorgenson went to the plate 79 times, and amassed 24 hits and 15 RBIs. Uetz, who earned the Packers' Rookie Award, had a .380 batting average after getting 8 runs on 13 hits in 41 at bats. Hoy, another senior, had 19 runs and 14 RBIs on 20 hits for a .278 batting average and .319 slugging percentage.
JV players Schmid and Dillard both made varsity appearances, and made them count. Though he only was at bat five times, Schmid had two hits, a run and an RBI for a batting average of .400. Likewise, Dillard proved himself a player to watch after carrying a .380 batting average from 50 plate appearances, resulting in 11 runs and 13 RBIs on 19 hits.
No defensive slouches
Tucker Bucholz could stand to be one of the Packers' biggest defensive assets in the years to come. The sophomore catcher and first baseman had a team-high 167 putouts, with only 2 errors on 22 games started. His fielding percentage was an amazing .989.
In fact, 14 players all had fielding percentages above .900.
In 82 innings, Jake Hermanson had 5 putouts and an assist, and was 100 percent at fielding. Strahm, who also was a first-basemen when not throwing strikes, had 128 putouts and 23 assists with only 4 errors. Second-baseman Flaten was next in line with 50 putouts and a team-high 53 assists. While in the outfield, Hoy impressed with 31 putouts, 10 assists and only 2 errors for a fielding percentage of .953. Albert also was up there in the ranks with 108 putouts and a .951 fielding percentage.
Overall, this season was one for the ages. And though they may reel next season from the loss of eight seniors, the Packers have enough depth and talent to carry them for years to come.