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The Dirty Dozen

They knew they were "loaded." They knew that, if any year it could happen, this would be the year.

Now, just one obstacle stands in the way.

With just a few more heated practice sessions standing between the West Fargo girls softball team and a bit of immortality, the Packers have a record of 27-0. Eclipsing 30 wins in a row would spell a streak of legendary proportions, and a ninth-straight state softball title.

The goal is the same every year, Pat Johnson, the only coach the program has known in its more than 10 years of existence, said. Its what you do along the way. This group has a chance to do something pretty special. Its tough not to think about it. But they still have three or four more games to go.

The goal now, as the team has said several times throughout the season, is not to shoot yourself in the foot. Theyve stumbled a couple times, including a last-minute victory over South thanks to a homerun in the top of the seventh inning by senior Ingrid Scantlebury, or a wild play against Warroad that scored senior Angie Young in the top of the eighth.

Fortunately for the Pack, there are no more road games this season. The North Dakota State Softball Tournament will be held at Elmwood Park here in West Fargo, with action beginning on Thursday. The Packers have been untouchable at home, where theyve dominated teams like South and Shanley, the only North Dakota squads to hold a lead at some point in their contests with West Fargo.

We like our home field, Johnson said. The girls are comfortable there, they practice there, they know where the fences are. It should be a bit of an advantage for us, sure.

The key, of course, has been the Dirty Dozen, 12 seniors that have refused to lose. Two are pitchers, who, of course, completed the season with unbeaten records. Erin Johnson, the coachs daughter, won her first state title as a freshman starter. She also platoons at second base. The other ace is Amber Jerger, who emerged as a compliment to Johnson back in the 2004 season, and has a number of state tournament games under her belt as well.

Experience wont be a problem, Pat Johnson said. We knew that coming in. These girls (on the mound) have seen it all. So they know how to work themselves through things and get out of a tough situation.

Behind them is a defense even more experienced, if thats possible. At shortstop, one of the key positions in fastpitch softball, is Ali Edwards. Edwards, who is all-state in volleyball and was all-conference in basketball is athletic enough that she started as an outfielder, but was moved the infield her sophomore season. Shes never left the left side.

At third is Angie Young, the vocal leader of the squad. She has manned the hot corner for three years, two as a full-time starter.

Playing second base is Sadie Mathson or Johnson, and junior Jamie Odden sometimes fills in. Oddens one of just a pair of juniors on the rotation.

Scantlebury has been stellar at first for two seasons, and is in a long line of solid first-basemen that Johnson has taught how to play the bag. Shes supported by fellow senior (of course) Ashley Walker.

Behind the is catcher Karly Kivi, a four-year starter who has followed in the footsteps of some solid catchers, including Brianna Rheault and Mandy Readel. Kivi learned from Readel, who helped coach for the squad for a couple of years.

In the outfield, there is a host of senior experience. Jerger moves to outfield at times, but the main rotation includes Amada Hought, Kelsi Wollitz, Mathson and Jen McCracken. Throw in utility player Kayla Leier, and thats 12 seniors.

The only one we havent mention is infielder/outfielder Sara Dell, a solid junior who is coming into her own on the diamond, as she did on the basketball court this season.

You dont get a group like this very often, Pat Johnson said. I dont know what well do next year. But thats a few months away. We still have work to do.