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Packer softball goes for No. 11

Last season's rookie-dominated Packer softball team faced tough odds on the road to its 10th consecutive state championship. Having lost nearly everyone from the prior season's undefeated team, No. 10 looked like a long shot.

When West Fargo begins the quest for 11 straight tomorrow at home against Bemidji, they'll do so with only five regulars from last year's 25-9 team.

Having won state last year with only two returning regulars, this year's chances for No. 11 actually look pretty good. Coach Pat Johnson took a very inexperienced team and shaped them into a state title team in little over two months.

"A lot of people didn't have the confidence in us last year, and we had to show them that we could do it, so I have faith that we can do it again," said junior outfielder Breanne Gregory.

The Packers graduated all-state infielders Sarah Dell and Jamie Odden, but return all-state junior pitcher Andrea Sluke, who went 20-6 with a 2.39 ERA last season and also hit .379. All five returning regulars hit over .300 last season including last year's top hitter, junior shortstop Aryelle Jones (.392, 3 HR, 37 RBIs), who led the team in the three triple crown categories.

Other returnees include Gregory (.353, 8 RBIs), sophomore outfielder Madison Anderson (.330, 17 RBIs) and junior catcher Rebecca Pegg (.319, 9 RBIs). Last year's No. 2 pitcher, junior Ally McCracken, was 5-3 with a 4.56 ERA.

A host of newcomers are battling for regular lineup spots - notably freshman first basemen Danielle Nelson and freshman pitcher Kacie Johnson - coach Pat Johnson's daughter. Pat's last daughter to play for him - pitching ace Erin Johnson - ended up the state's Miss Softball.

Pat Johnson isn't complaining about finding players spots or positions. He said there's plenty of depth to go around.

"I've got people that are two, three deep in each position, and it's a good thing. It's a matter of getting the right combination onto the field and doing the best we can. They're all pretty talented, and they all can work pretty hard," said Pat, who will finalize the team's 13-player roster this week.

"I've got six people that can play the outfield - 13 that are on varsity only, and I bring up four from JV."

Pat said Sluke will be the No. 1 starter and will rotate with McCrackin, with Kacie getting spot time on the mound and playing some centerfield and second base.

Only one person has been around for the 10 straight titles - the coach himself. Pat was asked what drives him, what else there is to accomplish.

"Each year is a new challenge," he said. "So each year your goal is to get them there again. Each year you bring in a different team and you experience something new."

Anderson feels her teammates are closer with one another than they were last year.

"We know each other a lot better this year," said Anderson. "I believe we're a pretty young team, but I believe we can pull it off."