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Packers extend winning streak to 15 straight

Despite a start that has the West Fargo Packer softball program at 15-0, Pat Johnson, the only coach the program has ever had, isnt satisfied.

We still have a lot of little things that we can improve on, Johnson said after a week that saw the Packers dominate Fargo South, hang 20 runs on Minot Ryan, and dump Minot 12-1 in five innings. We gave up six runs in the win over South. There were a lot of defensive things and decision-making things that we went back to work on in practice after that game. Offensively, we had some base running drills that we did to make that better.

Still, the unprecedented start has the Packers feeling like the outcome of the Drive for Nine is literally in their own hands. They have beaten solid Minnesota programs like St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and Detroit Lakes. They have dominated local rivals like Moorhead, Dilworth, Red River and the Bruins. And they have emerged from the early spring, unlike any other Johnson-led team, unscathed.

Its not something were really paying that much attention to yet, he said of the unbeaten start. I have prom to contend with this weekend, so you know their focus isnt entirely on softball. Maybe in a week, well start looking at that and saying that we can do something special here.

The Packers actually have not lost in more than a year. Their last defeat at the hand of a North Dakota opponent came last year in their first league game against Fargo North. There were some losses to Minnesota squads, but the team finished the year with just five defeats.

This year, though, the Packers havent even bowed to a Minnesota squad, something Johnson feels has a lot to do with experience and confidence.

We step on the field now knowing that we can compete with them, he said. In the past, we went into a lot of those games, especially against those established programs, feeling like we were the underdog. Thats a big hole before you even throw out a pitch. But were not feeling like that anymore, and its because of that attitude we have now where we feel we can compete with anybody.

West Fargo is crushing the ball offensively, averaging double-digits on the year in both runs and hits. The team has six players that are batting over .400, and, despite some injuries, the lineup hasnt missed a beat.

Weve had some girls battle some nagging things, nothing big. But we have 16 girls on this varsity roster that can all play. So you have seven girls a game who arent seeing the field much. That means when the time comes for them to step up, theyre ready, theyre hungry. They want to show what they can do. So we havent had to call anybody up to the varsity team this season just because of that depth, Johnson said.

The pitching staff has been solid, too. Against Minot Ryan, senior Amber Jerger gave up seven hits and settled down after a rough start to pitch shutout innings in the third, fourth and fifth to pick up her seventh win.

Erin Johnson, meanwhile, has been phenomenal. Against Minot, she gave up just one hit and was backed by a defense that committed no errors en route to a 12-1 win.

Neither Packer pitcher will strikeout a ton of batters in an outing, which means the West Fargo defense has to be solid. Coach Johnson said it has been, day in and day out, for the most part.

Well let the other team put the ball in play because we know our defense is capable of coming up with it, he said. And as we go its going to get stronger.

West Fargo will now play out a string of conference games, starting on Thursday, May 4, when they play at Fargo North. Theyll also look to make up a game that was literally flooded out last April when they do battle with Fargo Shanley at Mickelson Fields. That game has not been scheduled yet, but it will eventually feature the top two programs, record-wise, in North Dakota when the two teams finally meet.

Theyre playing all right, but they struggled with Central. So the competition on our side of the river might not be as solid as wed like it to be. But its still up to us to come out strong and win. The goal for the girls is to not beat themselves. Each game, we need to continue to get better. If they can do that, then maybe at the end of this season well start focusing more on that unbeaten streak and the goal of an unbeaten season. For now, well take it game by game.

The Packers and Spartans are scheduled to square off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The varsity game is preceded by the JV game at 5:30.