Perfect Packers win one for the thumb
Ali Edwards and her senior cohorts were in third grade the first time the West Fargo girls softball club played its way to the State Championship, led by a guy named Pat Johnson.
But Edwards and the rest of the Dirty Dozen completed a dream season that none of the eight other teams could accomplish Saturday afternoon, as the starting shortstop completed a highlight-reel play to end a 10-0 shutout over Fargo Shanley in the championship game at Elmwood Park last Saturday, giving West Fargo a perfect 31-0 record on the season.
We just didnt want to be the team that ended the streak. No one wants to be that team. And to go undefeated is just unbelievable, Edwards said. Its awesome. Thats all I can say.
Johnson, the only coach this program has ever known, earned one for the thumb with the programs ninth-straight title. The team hasnt been defeated at the State Tournament in any of those tournament appearances.
This was a true team, Johnson said. I think the depth is what made it different from the others. We had 12 seniors that all could play. And they all get along. Theyre friends on and off the field. I think they had T-shirts made that said it best: One team; One goal; No excuses. Thats the way they played.
West Fargo rolled through this years tournament, putting up 33 runs in four games and posting shutouts over Minot and Shanley. In turn, Packer pitching gave up just four hits, as Amber Jerger and Erin Johnson started the tournament with a pair of no-hitters.
Jergers came in a sluggish start for West Fargo, relatively speaking, as they snuck by Minot in the opener with a 5-0 win. The Packers strung together two solid innings at the plate, taking advantage of a couple of Minot errors to break the game open. But coach Johnson was not impressed with the Packer offense.
Were making some fundamental mistakes, he said. Were trying to pull the ball to left field, and that doesnt always work. We need to find the pitch where its at and just drive it, keep our shoulders level and put it in play.
The offense struggled a bit again in the quarterfinal, but Angie Young sparked West Fargo with a pair of extra-base hits and two RBI to lead the way as West Fargo dispatched of Grand Forks Central with a 7-1 victory. Centrals lone run came off of an error on first baseman Ashley Walker to lead off the top of the sixth inning, with the Pack already holding a 7-0 advantage. A stolen base and a pair of grounders brought Centrals Cady Coss around to score.
But Erin Johnson was stellar, striking out 11 in a no-hit bid, her third in state tournament play.
I was just hoping they wouldnt hit me hard, she said. I think having two different pitchers that can come out and dominate, thats tough for a lot of teams to handle. Ambers throwing well and teams know they cant go for a lot of offense off of her and if Im on, then its tough to score on us. Plus, our defense is playing great.
Young, meanwhile, stepped up for the offense, driving in Kelsi Wollitz in the first inning to give the Pack a 1-0 lead. It would stay that way until the third, when Young again brought Wollitz around with a shot to left-center that hit the fence on the fly.
I thought maybe it was gone, she said. I was just trying to stay relaxed and let the pitch come to me. I think maybe we were all a little nervous that first game. And we hit better off of faster pitchers, so when teams throw a slower one we have to adjust.
They adjusted Friday night, exploding for 13 hits and 11 runs in their best outing of the tournament.
The championship play-in game marked the third time Shanley and West Fargo squared off, and it would prove not to be the last.
The Deacons threatened to score first, but the Packer defense slammed the door on Shanley in the top of the first when Karly Kivi made a heads-up play, gunning down Becca Conant at first for the final out when Kayla Bowar could have scored from third. It ended any hopes of a Deacon upset, as the Packers then scored three runs over the next two innings.
Our defense gets us going sometimes, Young said. And our pitching has improved so much throughout the year.
Playing at first, Ingrid Scantlebury got the Packer offense going driving in two-runs with a single to right. And Amanda Hought, in her only start of the weekend, went 3-for-4 with three runs scored. She also earned a walk.
With their spot in the championship game secure, West Fargo watched as Shanley played its way to the final, beating Fargo South for the right to play for the title. With a perfect record of 30-0 going into the final, Young said the team was feeling confident, but not cocky.
We know we can do something special, but you try to put it in the back of your mind, she said. Were excited, but were not over-confident. We know anything can happen.
The two teams were held scoreless by pitchers Johnson and Conant over the first two innings, Johnson racking up three strikeouts and Shanley using solid infield defense to keep the Packers at bay.
But after another 1-2-3 inning for Johnson in the third, Conant got into trouble early in the bottom half of that same inning, walking Walker to lead off the frame. Edwards then sparked the rally with a bunt that fell perfectly into the infield, and earned a base-hit. Walker came all the way around to score on the play thanks to an error, and the Pack had a 1-0 lead.
With Edwards on first and nobody out, Johnson helped herself, knocking out a base-hit that moved Edwards to third. She would later score on a wild pitch that also advanced Johnson to third base.
Young earned a walk, and Johnson would score on the final pitch, a wild delivery from Conant, giving West Fargo a 3-0 lead.
And West Fargo wasnt done, Sara Dell cracked out an extra base hit to center, bringing around Young and giving the junior an RBI in the title game. West Fargo led 4-0.
It would be all Johnson would need, as the Miss Softball award-winner sailed through the top of the fourth with two strikeouts, and gave up three ground balls to her defense in the top of the fifth.
For good measure, the Packers batted around in the bottom of the fourth, scoring six runs on three hits, including a triple by Wollitz. Young also smashed a double to left, and Dell got her second hit of the game with a triple to right. By the end of the fourth, West Fargo had an insurmountable 10-0 lead.
To cap the game, Edwards fielded a hot shot at short, diving to her left, getting to her feet and throwing out Shanleys Hope Wosick.
What a great way to end it, Erin Johnson said. Ill always remember this game for that. It ended everything on a great note.
At the end, there were no gloves tossed in the air, very few screams of joy, and no jumping around. There were, however, a lot of hugs exchanged and even a few tears shed, as the team realized theyd reached the end of the road.
Were such good friends, Erin Johnson said. We back each other up. I wouldnt trade anyone on this team for anybody else out there. We worked hard to keep this team at the top. And Shanleys a great team. Thats our toughest competition this year. And theyll be strong for a while.
Indeed, onlookers whispered that the Deacons, with their entire roster coming back next year, could be the team that finally denies West Fargo their crown.
Well have the same goal next year, Pat Johnson said. I hope this isnt the end. Hopefully, these 12 start us anew. They had a great work ethic in practice. They set a great example for the younger kids. And I think the tradition is still there. I think next year will be a new beginning.
The Packers racked up a host of postseason honors, as well. Pat Johnson earned Coach of the Year, and exchanged a hug with daughter, Erin, who was named Miss Softball after the game. Two other Packers, Edwards and Wollitz, were also finalists for the award. And Edwards, Johnson, Scantlebury, Young and Wollitz were all named to the All-State team.
But all 12 seniors combined to leave on a magical note.
I think once we got to about 15-0 and we saw we could do it, we wanted to go undefeated, Edwards said of the perfect season. We thought it was our turn to do something no team had ever done.
Consider that mission accomplished.