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Patriots fourth at state

West Fargo's Karson Mapes (10) connects for a single Friday during an American Legion Class A State Tournament game against Bismarck at Kraft Field in Grand Forks. Christian Randolph / Forum Communications Co.1 / 2
West Fargo's Chance Bitzer makes a jumping catch to grab a foul ball and get the out against Grand Forks on Saturday. Christian Randolph / Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

On Saturday, the Patriots' American Legion season officially ended.

"Our goal all year was to be playing on championship Sunday," West Fargo baseball coach Bill Ibach said. "We were a couple games short of that."

The Patriots were edged 5-4 by Grand Forks in their final game of the Class A State Tournament in Grand Forks. West Fargo was 2-2 at the tournament, a game better than the past two years, but short of title contention.

Still, the Pats , who came in as the No. 4 seed, finished fourth overall, "and that's nothing to hang our heads about," Ibach said.

The irony of the whole thing, however, was the Patriots got knocked out by a team they beat by four runs in the first round, and by seven runs in their final game of the regular season. It just proves that anything can happen in postseason play, and in Saturday's game, anything is exactly what happened.

Tanner Dahl pitched the Pats to a complete-game, 7-3 victory Wednesday over Grand Forks. Dahl was on fire, and allowed just 2 earned runs while striking out five batters. West Fargo went on to face eventual runner-up Williston on Thursday, and fell 10-3. Mandan defeated Williston in the title matchup, garnering its 10th state championship and first since 2000.

With a double-elimination format, the Patriots still had a chance, and rebounded in style the next day 2-0 over Bismarck behind pitcher Andy Young's shutout.

On Saturday, West Fargo once again found itself facing Grand Forks, but this time with different results. After five scoreless innings, West Fargo looked like it would hold on for a 4-3 win. But the Royals knocked in two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to take the victory and boot the Pats from contention.

It's not like the Patriots didn't try, though: it was just a strange day.

"There were a lot of odd plays in that game," Ibach said.

The Royals' winning run actually came off a botched West Fargo play, in which outfielder Austin Horsager attempted to pick off the scoring run at home. His aim was true, Ibach said, but the ball wound up striking the Royals' Taylor Cantrell in the back of the head as he rounded first.

Cantrell was stunned, but would get up under his own power, Ibach said. In the mean time, David Nelson got off Scott free to score the winning run.

And while it may be easy to think about the final play, there were several game-changers that went West Fargo's way, too. One in particular was by Young, who turned a double play that made his coach's head spin.

"(Young) got a grounder and dove to get the runner at second," Ibach said. "Then he popped right up and threw to get the guy at first."

The very next pitcher, Chance Bitzer completed a jaw dropper as he leaped over the fence to snag a fly ball.

"It was incredible," Ibach said.

So while the Patriots may not have finished out the year as well as they hoped, they still created some memories to smile about. And Ibach said he and his fellow coaches have some high expectations for the players returning next season.

"We have a good group coming back," he said. "If we can make our pitchers just a little bit better, we'll be in a really good position. It's all about consistency."