Season in Review: Softball
Another season, another state championship trophy for West Fargo softball.
For fans not keeping track, that makes two titles since softball was sanctioned as a high school sport and 13 straight.
The streak is impressive; the consistency, uncanny. To outsiders, it may seem as if the Packers have some secret, some edge that helps them win games. This year alone, West Fargo cruised to the championship on the wings of a 25-2 regular-season record.
Though there is little doubt talent runs rampant in the West Fargo sideline, that alone does not account for years of winning. What more likely does, however, are the practices and processes coaches instill from early on.
"The program is the coaching," West Fargo head coach Pat Johnson said recently. The girls "buy into the program we have and build consistency in what we do."
That idiosyncrasies of the program are taught at an early age, as soon as the girls start playing softball in West Fargo, Johnson said. Consistency is the ultimate goal, and it has shown to have taken hold, year-in and year-out.
Another part of the program is leading by example, especially among the athletes.
"We like to get the older kids involved with the younger kids, to show interest and get involvement," Johnson said.
This creates a "close-knit group. There's really no fighting or bickering, which creates some of the fun - they actually like each other," he said.
This tightness among teammates is evident from anyone in the stands. All game long, the Packers are cheering on their batters or anyone on the field, even if a play goes awry or a batter strikes out.
"We just tell them 'You have to say something positive,'" Johnson said. "I want them cheering and doing something all the time. It keeps you going, and they support each other."
This cheering and positive reinforcement certainly bodes well for public perception, which is exactly what Johnson and the rest of the coaches want. With all eyes on West Fargo, it is critical for the players to realize they are role models. "Whether you want to be one or not, you are," Johnson said. "The kids are going to look up to the athletes in the sports they want to play."
Stars shine bright
Though all the Packers are looked up to in some way or another, several in particular made their presences known this season. Carissa Becher, Kacie Johnson, Danielle Nelson, Madison Anderson and Allison Klug earned All-EDC honors, while Pat Johnson was named All-EDC coach of the year.
Also, Kacie Johnson, Nelson and Becher were named to the All-State team at the end of the year.
The rash of honors speaks volumes to West Fargo's success. In particular, Kacie Johnson, Pat Johnsons' daughter, took her play to a whole different level. Besides earning conference and state honors, Kacie was named Gatorade North Dakota Softball Player of the Year after posting a 19-1 pitching record with a 1.10 ERA and 141 strikeouts. She also had four no-hitters and one perfect game, and batted .547 with five home runs, 13 doubles, 45 runs and 40 RBIs.
And the best part: Kacie was a junior and should stand return and lead the Packers as a senior next season.
Though Kacie Johnson spent a lot of time on the mound, other pitchers in the mix proved the Packers have few weak links. Brook Rheault went 6-1 with two shutouts. The junior finished with a 1.91 ERA, while striking out 41 batters and allowing just 14 walks. Kelsey Daul also pitched solidly. Though she only went up for 17 innings, the junior was flawless at 3-0, two wins of which were shutouts. Daul had a staggeringly low ERA of 0.41, with 11 strikouts, eight walks and 17 hits.
As for batting, West Fargo was a fully-loaded team. Of the 12 players with more than 30 plate appearances, only two had a batting average less than .300. As a team, the Packers overall BA was .402, with 304 runs, 334 hits and 14 home runs.
Kacie Johnson was the leader overall in batting, but there were several Packers close behind. Nelson finished at .500 for the season after racking up 38 runs on 37 hits. The junior first baseman also smoked a homer, and shared a team-high 5 doubles with Anderson. Anderson also was at the top offensively. The outgoing senior had a .425 BA on 35 runs on 34 hits, and led the team in steals with 12. She also hit two home runs.
And these are only the top three batters. Nearly the entire lineup put up numbers that would impress even the most stringent hardball fanatic.
Many will be returning, too.
In fact, West Fargo only loses two upperclassmen, which could mean Title No. 14 is not out of the question. Left fielder Anderson and catcher Klug both graduated this spring, and though they will be sorely missed, Pat Johnson isn't too concerned about finding suitable replacements.
"Those veteran players, they're always going to be difficult to replace, but that's why you build the program," he said. "Other players are sitting on the side, just waiting their turn."
But it is not just a matter of filling in spots. Players have to prove their worth.
"We have quite a few that have the opportunity," Pat Johnson said. "Our JV team also was undefeated.
But they have to come out and prove themselves. It's not a right ... it's earned."