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Packers staying in the thick of things

Wind-aided or not, theres something about a walk-off home run that can make everybody smile.

Capping a wild, seven-inning game that figured in more than a dozen runs and a gusty, 25 mph wind, Grant Schmidt slammed a shot to right-center field that gave the Packers a 9-7 victory in the bottom of the seventh, preventing Fargo South from capturing the Eastern Dakota Conference regular season title on West Fargos turf.

We didnt want that to happen to us last night and thats something that we talked about going into the game, Brett Peterson, head coach of the Packers, said of his teams win over the Bruins. South can wait a couple more days. Theyre pretty much in the drivers seat now, so it was a nice win for us and a good confidence builder for the team.

The Packers have been playing solid ball as of late. A win over Grand Forks Central last week (a makeup game) tossed in with the win over South gave the squad a three-game conference win streak.

But West Fargo was out-dueled Thursday night in the nightcap of the days three-team double-header. Matt Renfrew was solid, but Shanley was tougher, surrendering just three hits in a combined 1-run outing for the Deacon pitching staff. The Deacons moved to 5-8, just three games behind the Packers in the standings, with a 3-1 win.

It was just one of those games where we couldnt put anything together, Peterson said. Our offense hasnt had many days like that. The guys might have been a little tired. Fighting that wind through two games takes a lot out of you.

Friday, West Fargo played the first of four games in the Fargo-Moorhead Eicholtz Memorial Tournament, playing its only game against a conference opponent to open the weekend. The Packers stomped Devils Lake, then fell to Duluth East, Fergus Falls and lost a nail-biter to Mandan to close out the tournament.

In opening day action, Devils Lake struggled as Dustin Gregory led the Packers with a solid pitching performance, surrendering four runs in six complete innings of work. At the plate, it was Schmidt who did the damage again, launching a grand slam home run in the bottom of the fourth inning, staking West Fargo to a 10-1 lead.

Im just seeing the ball really well right now, Schmidt said. I dont know what it is. Both of those (homers) just felt perfect.

Schmidt isnt the only Packer stinging the ball right now, Peterson said. Renfrew has been solid, as has Brandon Reber. Alex Salquist, the teams normal leader at the plate, has emerged from an early-season lull to return to form. His single off the wall in left field loaded the bases for Schmidt in the fourth.

Offense definitely has not been our problem right now, which is a little bit different than what we thought of our team going into the year, Peterson said. We thought defense and pitching could be our strengths. But weve had a couple pitchers who have struggled, and our defense has been on for the most part. If we can put it all together, we should be all right.

The fact that the Packers are one of the hotter teams in the EDC bodes well for a team hitting the home stretch. The squad has a big road trip on Thursday afternoon, playing two at Jamestown, one of four teams ahead of them in the standings. On Saturday, theyll host Devils Lake, the same squad they manhandled for five innings last weekend. That double-header wraps up the regular season.

I think were starting to come together right now, Schmidt said of his team. I think were starting to trust each other. We should be a team that can do well at the tournaments.

Despite wrapping up the Eicholtz Tourney with three straight losses, Peterson feels the same way. He said he thought this years Packers would be a team that could come together later in the season, and could be primed for a good stretch run.

We can put ourselves in a good position here late in the year and then anything can happen at the regional tournament, Peterson said. I think weve seen that offense isnt an issue for these guys. Its getting good pitching over the course of three days and playing solid defense. If they can do that, they can advance.

Thursdays twin bill in Jamestown starts at 5 p.m., with Saturdays double-header against the Firebirds beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday.