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Softball streak intact, No. 11 in the books

The West Fargo softball team had its injuries. The Packers weren't fielding the ball well at the end of the season, and it seemed they just could not beat Fargo North.

None of that mattered last weekend in Minot, when the Packers pulled it all together as they have so many times before and won their 11th consecutive state championship.

The streak lives on yet again. Like other teams before it, this team pulled it all together when it counted and showed the rest of the state that it wouldn't be the one to end the streak that began in 1997.

Junior Ally McCracken, the championship game winning pitcher, said it wasn't even really a question if the Packers were going to win. The Packers beat, in order, Devils Lake, Fargo Shanley, Fargo North and Fargo South in the state tournament to take the title.

"There wasn't much doubt at all," she said. "After that first game of the tournament, we all pretty much decided that we were there to win and we were going to do what ever it took to win."

That meant playing solid defense - something the Packers struggled with at times during the regular season. West Fargo had its defensive follies in the semi-final win over North on Saturday but won 3-2 behind freshman pitcher Kacie Johnson's nine strikeouts.

The Packers took the field later in the day and committed only one error in a 2-0 title game victory over the Bruins. The state title is West Fargo High's lone team state championship of the school year.

"It was awesome because all the girls really, really, really wanted this because we worked so hard for it," said senior Stevi Kinsella, a pinch hitter at state. "It was awesome, it being (the seniors') last game ever, and it was a state championship, and we won. It's a good way to end it - to look back and know that we won that last game."

The Packers finish the season with an 18-8 mark, only three of those losses against in-state competition. West Fargo coach Pat Johnson said he can't recall a year during the state title streak as injury plagued as this season was for the Packers.

Senior catcher Rebecca Pegg sat out most of the season with injury but returned a few weeks ago. Several others missed several games due to injury, as well. Last season's star pitcher Andrea Sluke, a sophomore, spent a majority of this spring injured, although she was used sparingly on offense in the state tournament.

With Sluke out, McCracken and Kacie Johnson were called on to pitch more often than expected this season. Johnson finished the year 7-0 as a pitcher, while McCracken ended at 8-4.

McCracken was on the mound when junior shortstop Aryelle Jones caught a pop up and tagged out a runner near second base for the game-ending, season-ending, state championship-clinching double play.

"I was shocked. I didn't realize the game was over, and then (catcher) Becca Pegg told me, 'Ally, we won,' and that's when it hit me," said McCracken. "It took me a second. It was just so really exciting for me, being a pitcher, to be able to pitch the state championship game."

Kacie Johnson, like several Packers, was a varsity rookie this season. She said that although it's state title No. 11 in a row, it's almost like starting all over.

"Once we got the trophy it was like, 'Wow, this is really cool.' We just kind of started our own streak - the beginning of a new decade, hopefully. It felt really great once we got that trophy and started celebrating."

It was Pegg's second season behind the plate, and as a graduating senior, her last. Despite the Packers' annual success in the state tournament, she wasn't sure she'd get her second state title in as many years.

"I went into this season thinking this is going to be a lot of work, and we'll have to play our hardest. At the beginning of the season, we weren't all thinking that we could do it," said Pegg. "But we put it all together and played the best we've played. It was like the icing on the cake of my senior year. It was fantastic."

Pat Johnson is the only person who has been part of all 11 state titles. He knows someday the streak will inevitably come to an end.

"I guess it'll have to end someday," he said. "It would be nice to go on as long as I do, but all good things do come to end eventually. It didn't this year. When we start practicing in March, we always have one goal in mind, and that's to be in the state championship and to win it."