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Packer softball looks to repeat in 2013

Packer softball players Maddie Nelson, left, and Morgan Stirling work from a hitting tee during softball practice at West Fargo High School on Thursday. (David Samson / Forum News Service)

After a 33-2 season and a state title, the West Fargo softball team is returning to the field. Well, technically there are just in the gym for now, but there is little doubt they are ready for opening day.

Last season, the Packers did not lose to a North Dakota team, and won an eight-inning, 1-0 nailbiter against Bishop Ryan High of Minot for the state championship.

Since then, the team has lost five seniors, just enough to leave some uncertainty leading into this season.

“We had seniors that we’ll definitely miss, but now we’ve got young kids coming up to fill that role,” head coach Pat Johnson said. “It’s tough to tell (how this year’s team compares to last), mainly because we haven’t gone outside yet. Last year, we were on the field right away. We’re just hoping everyone can come in and fill the positions they need to.”

Johnson, who has coached the Packers for almost 20 years, believes the team’s hitting ability is not a weakness, but since the team’s leadoff and cleanup hitters have graduated, it is the area the team needs to focus on the most.

“We have our pitching staff back, so that helps,” Johnson said. “We usually play good defense, so we’re really focusing on our hitting. We take about an hour of hitting every night. We lost most of our front-end hitters, so that’s going to lead to some jumping around the batting order. We’ll have to be able come up with some team chemistry because, more than anything, that’s what this has to be about.”

Despite the expected changes in the lineup, Johnson expects to have a season similar to last year’s.

“We expect to get better every time on the field,” Johnson said. “We expect to be there at the end and have another shot at a state title. Whether we will win one or not is another thing, but you want to keep getting better and make strides toward that.”

With the amount of snow still on the ground, Johnson fears his team will end up playing most of their games in May, but feels the depth of his team can carry them through that predicament.

“I think we have enough people to play more games in a short period of time, but you hate to see that,” Johnson said. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but the piles of snow on the field doesn’t really bode well.”

The girls are scheduled to have games tomorrow and Friday against Valley City and Fargo South, respectively, but likely will not take the field until next Friday when they travel to St. Paul for a weekend tournament.

“We’d love to get on the field a few times before then,” Johnson said, “but if we can’t, we can’t.”