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West Fargo Patriots fall to 8th with losing streak

The Patriots' recent six-game road trip went about as bad as it could, forcing the team to compete in a play-in tournament this week to make the upcoming state tourney.

West Fargo went 1-5 against Mandan, Bismarck and Dickinson, ending the team's hopes to automatically make the state tournament and forgo having to play its way there.

Now the Patriots must finish as one of the top two of six teams in the play-in tournament that started yesterday in Grand Forks.

"I definitely think we can do it," said pitcher Luke Steckler earlier this week. "We played with or beat every team in the tournament, and I'm not worried at all. If we can play our game we'll be fine, and we should be in the state tournament."

The Patriots will be doing all they can not to play like they did against Bismarck and Dickinson and play a little more like they did against Mandan. West Fargo won 4-2 and lost 2-0 against Mandan. Scores weren't nearly as close against the other two teams, where the Patriots lost four games by a combined score of 58-15.

West Fargo suffered its worst loss of the season in its first game against Dickinson last Thursday by the score of 25-5.

"It's definitely not what we wanted," said Patriots coach Shannon Miller. "We definitely need to finish better."

Miller noted that his team gave up only four runs in the doubleheader against Mandan but wasn't able to win both games. The Patriots actually out-hit Dickinson in the second game of the teams' doubleheader in which the Patriots were 10-runned. West Fargo surrendered 18 walks against Dickinson, not including three hit batters.

"We just have to put it all together," said Steckler. "Out west we'd pitch well and play good defense but we couldn't hit, or we'd hit the ball well and then we couldn't pitch well or play defense. We have to put it all together in the same game, and we'll do fine."

The one win against Mandan gives West Fargo something the Patriots rarely see - a winning regular season record at 23-22. The team's eighth place finish makes the Patriots the No. 3 seed for the play-in tournament, pitting them against Wahpeton yesterday in their opening game. Miller elected to go with Steckler on the mound for the opener; game results were unavailable at press time.

A West Fargo victory would have earned the team a game against Devils Lake today, where Miller said he'll give pitcher Tyler Gronbeck the start. If the Patriots lost their opener the coach said Jonny Schroeder will take the mound in the potential elimination game, adding that Schroeder performs well in pressure situations.

"In my view we're the best team in this play-in tourney," said Miller. "My outlook is very positive. We understand the regular season is over, and our record doesn't mean anything right now. Everyone is the same. We're all two losses away from being home and thinking about football."

Dickinson, Fargo, Minot, Bismarck and Williston all avoided the play-in tournament by virtue of their regular season finishes and are assured spots in the state tournament, beginning July 29, in Wahpeton.

The Patriots will have to snap their five-game losing streak and then some to earn a spot in Wahpeton.

"I think we just need to go out and play loose. Everyone is so uptight when they play," said Schroeder, also the team's veteran catcher. "We just need to go out and have fun and play the game."