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Pats pick up where Packers left off

West Fargo Patriots shortstop Andy Young eyes a ground ball during a game earlier this season against Jamestown in West Fargo. David Samson / Forum Communications Co.

A few weeks into their season, and the West Fargo American Legion baseball team already is coming together.

Not surprising, seeing as most of the Patriots are just coming off a state-championship year with the West Fargo High School baseball team.

"It's a group that is used to playing under pressure and having lots of success," coach Bill Ibach said.

The Patriots return a lot of heavy hitters, including spring standouts such as Andy Young, Tucker Bucholz and Zach Steckler, as well as other notables like Tanner Dahl and Chance Bitzer of Moorhead, who was just drafted with the USHL but decided to come out for one more summer of Legion ball.

But even with a full armory, all is not roses within West Fargo's ranks.

"There is sort of a hangover at the beginning of the year after coming off such a high note," Ibach said, referring to the Packers' state championship. "They're not really hitting on all cylinders yet, but that will come."

Even though the Patriots are sitting at 6-2 on the season (they had a doubleheader Monday in Alexandria, Minn., but results were unavailable by press time), one loss sticks out that emphasizes Ibach's theory.

On June 11, metro rivals Fargo Post 2 beat West Fargo 10-1 in an uncharacteristically lopsided game. In Ibach's eyes, it wasn't that the Patriots were outmatched necessarily, but more so that they gave up before the final pitch.

"Fargo Post 2 is a solid team with good defense and great pitching," Ibach said. "We were down 5-0 early on, but still competing. I didn't feel at all like we were out of the game.

"But I was disappointed at the end. ... It was kind of like we died. I talked to them at the end and we discussed how you're never out of a game."

Getting the score run up like that was an eye-opener for players used to dishing it out more than the other way around.

"These guys have had a lot of success and have been in a lot of tight positions, but I don't think they're used to being down by 8 or 9 runs," Ibach said.

West Fargo's coach considers that game an anomaly, of sorts; a side effect of transitioning from the prep season to American Legion baseball. And while competition is certainly fierce at the high-school level, Legion really is a whole different ballgame.

"They are such different animals," Ibach said. "The college kids come back, too, so it changes everything.

"The competition in the spring is certainly fierce, but in the summer, it changes."

With the North Dakota state tournament slated for early August, there is little time remaining for the Patriots to find a rhythm. With such a talented roster, however, Ibach doesn't foresee that as an issue.

"I think we're going to get better. We haven't even come close to our potential," he said.

The Patriots will get the chance to test their mettle later this week, when they head to Omaha. They'll be back home Monday for a game hosting Moorhead at 6 p.m.