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Packer softball makes it a dozen; West Fargo keeps state title streat alive

West Fargo's Aryelle Jones tags second for an out against Fargo North's Morgan Shelton during the North Dakota State softball championship game at Elmwood Park in West Fargo on Saturday. Sawyard Horner/The Forum1 / 2
West Fargo's Madison Anderson is safe at second against Fargo North's Alyssa Boetel. Sayward Honer/The Forum2 / 2

Score another one for the Packer softball team, winners of an amazing 12th state championship in a row.

There seems to be an interesting twist or two that makes each West Fargo state title different than the last. Despite winning 11 championships before the one claimed last Saturday, this will be the first that earns a Packer softball team the honor of having its team photo featured in the commons area of the high school for eternity.

This will be the first team that gets a state championship banner in the gymnasium and the first one to get recognition on the state title signs that brag to visitors entering city limits of the school's rich athletic history. The sport of softball finally received the state's blessing, becoming an official state-sanctioned sport for the first time this season.

"It's just unbelievable. It's really exciting to finally be sanctioned and be recognized throughout the school," said junior left fielder Madison Anderson. "We were just a club team, and now we're actually part of the school."

An inaugural state championship was on the line, and the Packers, winners of 11 state club titles in a row, won that one too. And it even took place at the team's home field, West Fargo's Elmwood Park.

"We know no one is really cheering for us each year, because we're the team to beat. Everyone wants to beat the Packers, and we knew we had to go out and play. No one was going to let up on us, and we had to give it our all," said senior shortstop Aryelle Jones.

West Fargo tore through its state tournament opener and semi-final with a 8-0 win over Minot followed by a 10-0 victory against Grand Forks Red River. The big wins set up a state title matchup with Fargo North that saw the Packers hang on to win 7-6 and keep the state championship streak intact.

The Spartans scored in the top of the seventh inning to pull within one run of West Fargo. With a Fargo North runner on third base and two outs, senior Packer second baseman Jessica Woodbury fielded a grounder and threw to sophomore Packer first baseman Danielle Nelson to run the state title streak to 12.

"It was kind of nerve-racking when the ball was hit to me, and I was just thinking, 'I'll just get it done' and I threw the ball," said Woodbury. "It was a crazy feeling, like, 'Oh my gosh, we just won.' After that last out everyone just kind of ran and jumped and hugged each other. We were all excited and screaming."

The win caps a 22-5 season that saw the Packers lose only once to an in-state team, an early-season loss to Fargo Shanley.

Now that the Packers have continued the streak yet again, the question is inevitable: What about next year? Despite the loss of soon-to-be graduates Jones and Woodbury - both recently named all-state - as well as that of reserve outfielder Katie Fretheim, West Fargo is in a great position to go for No. 13. The team returns most of its offensive firepower, including six players that hit over .300 this season, as well as its top three pitchers in sophomores Kacie Johnson and Kelsey Daul and freshman Brooke Rheault.

Perhaps most importantly, the Packers return this year's state coach of the year - Pat Johnson, the coach of every one of West Fargo's state champion teams. He said he thinks of the latest state title as both the 12th in a row and as the beginning of a new era in Packer softball.

"It's like the 12th, because I like to remember all the girls that put in all that time and hard work and made this possible, getting us sanctioned," said Pat Johnson. "I like to think it's our first too, because (these same players) didn't do it all those other 11 years."

Jones, a three-sport star for the Packers throughout her high school years, wore Packer green and white for the last time and was also named the state's Gatorade softball player of the year.

"It's nice to go out and finish on a high note," she said. "It's been a great feeling every year...something special."