For the most part, the West Fargo softball team traveled a road to the state championship game that was fairly smooth and bump free.
Despite the loss of top seniors like Kacie Johnson and Danielle Nelson from the year before, the Packers mowed down their competition, tallying 520 runs and allowing just 31 from the beginning of the season through their Eastern Dakota Conference tournament victory.
The dominating trend continued in the opening-round and semifinal games of last weekend's state tournament in West Fargo, as the Packers seemingly coasted to Saturday's title matchup with 11-1 and 10-0 wins over Bismarck and Bismarck Century, respectively.
But that's where the similarities stopped; Minot Ryan would not simply roll over and let West Fargo run away with its 15th consecutive state title.
Minot Ryan's Hannah Stewart and West Fargo's Brittany Rheault fought in a pitcher's duel that may go down in the history books. Neither allowed a single run through seven innings, forcing the game into extra innings.
"They're a good team, and their pitcher kept us off balance," West Fargo coach Pat Johnson said.
Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Brittany Rheault got a base hit to right field, something "we'd been trying to do the whole game," Johnson said.
The hit resulted in the game-winning score by Andrina Brogden, who was pinch-running for leadoff hitter Sydney Greenlund.
The Packer-fan saturated crowd erupted in cheers.
"It's something the girls worked hard for all year," Johnson said. "We talked a lot about tradition and what it takes to be successful. It takes that effort and work ethic, which, in the long run, pays off."
Three Packers, Jolene Woodbury, Sydney Greenlund and Brook Rheault, earned All-Conference honors. Greenlund also was named Senior Athlete of the Year.
The big key to this year's success was filling the voids left by last year's seniors.
"Everybody had a tendency to think this was the year to beat us," coach Patrick Johnson said. "But the whole thing is, who is going to step up next, and we had a bunch of player step up."
"Woodbury probably had her best year at batting and playing," Johnson noted. "And Brittany Rheault came out and filled the void we had at pitcher.
"She didn't miss a beat there."
Brook Rheault also filled the leadoff hitter roll, and everyone stepped up when they need to most.
That team-first ethic is what has made West Fargo a softball powerhouse for that past 15 years, and what will keep it there for years to come.
"Everybody stepped up down the line. Nobody complained or pouted. They weren't selfish. They played together and worked hard," Johnson said.