Patriots pitchers certainly took advantage of the chance to pitch in a Major League ball park last Thursday.
They went out and threw a no-hitter against Alexandria in the Metrodome, and the seven West Fargo pitchers that combined to hold Alexandria batters hitless didn't even know what they'd done until the end of the game.
"I didn't know," said Patriots pitcher Alex Pribula, the second of seven West Fargo pitchers. "Then I heard and realized, 'Oh yeah, we did have a no-hitter.' So that was pretty cool. It was really a fun thing to do."
The Patriots won 8-0 in a game in which second baseman Spencer Flaten had an inside-the-park home run. All of this came after the Patriots players got to see the Yankees beat the Twins.
"The field looks big, but when you're down there it's huge. It's pretty memorable," said West Fargo outfielder Eric Benson, who also didn't know about the no-hitter until the end.
The Metrodome scoreboard wasn't used in the game in which teams were allowed to use their entire rosters to form hitting lineups. It gave everyone a chance to experience the once-in-a-lifetime event of literally being the encore to the New York Yankees.
It was Matt Strahm's second no-hitter of the year after tossing one during the high school season.
"It was pretty neat to play on a big league field," said Strahm. "We were just so in awe of the stadium and being able to play down there."
Playing at the Metrodome against an out-of-state team counted for zero in the state standings. The Patriots had fun beating Alexandria, but they know the real work comes this week.
Thanks to a doubleheader sweep of Grand Forks last week, West Fargo can breathe a small sigh of relief heading into a regular-season-ending, western North Dakota road trip.
Shortstop Cole Mapes was the hero of the day for the Patriots, hitting a two-run home run in the first game (a 5-4 win) and game-winning sacrifice fly in the second game (an 8-7 victory).
The twin wins were big for West Fargo, who also lost to Moorhead last Sunday, 3-1.
"It was really important, because it gives us a better chance on making it to state. It was a bit of a relief, but we still have to pick it up a little bit," said Benson.
Results from games played Tuesday and Wednesday against Mandan and Bismarck were not available before press time. The Patriots close out the regular season with a doubleheader at Dickinson today. State tournament play-in games begin July 23 in Grand Forks and Minot. They are games that the Patriots want no part of.
The top four finishers in the state standings get automatic bids for the state tourney, while the rest of the teams fight for two remaining spots. At press time West Fargo was in a three-way tie for sixth place with a 7-7 league record. All three teams the Patriots play this week are still in the hunt, including first place Dickinson.
Patriots coach Shannon Miller said the Patriots definitely need three wins on the six-game road trip this week.
"With four we're kind of in control. Five we got it, and six is a no-brainer," he said. "If we take care of business we can avoid the play-in tournament. If we don't then we have the play-in, and it's a matter of watching scoreboards."
Pitching is back
After some midseason struggles, the Patriots pitching staff is right where it wants to be. They're giving the team's offense a chance to win games, and, in one case last week, combining to throw a no-hitter.
"The pitching is back on track," said Miller. "If our pitching keeps up we're going to be tough the rest of the way. This is our make or break week."
Four Patriots have pitched more than 40 innings this season, including Luke Steckler (4-2, 3.02) and Matt Strahm (3-2, 1.91). Alex Pribula (3-5, 4.50) and Tyler Gronbeck (5-3, 4.43) are also getting plenty of work.
Strahm leads the team in strikeouts with 40, while the other three have all struck out more than 20 batters each. Other regular pitchers include Jon Schroeder (3-1, 5.30) and Kolby Schmidt (3-2, 7.33). Statistics do not include games played this week.