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Offense powers Packers to state tournament

Hayle Sachow Johnson of West Fargo bats against Fargo North during the N.D. East Region girls softball tournament Friday, May 23, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg

The Packers punched their ticket to the 2014 state tournament and, like most of the season, they made it look easy at the plate.

The team scored 28 points in three games of the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament and their season average of 12 runs per game is almost five runs higher than the next highest scoring team.

“We have been doing well,” Junior outfielder Rachael McGrady said. “We have been down in games, and it’s our bats that have brought us back.”

So what does head coach Pat Johnson want to see out of his offense in this weekend’s state tournament? A stronger performance from everyone.

“The bats are always important,” Johnson said. “One game we will hit really well, and the next game we won’t, so we are really looking for consistency the whole time. We will get three or four kids hot one game and three or four different ones hot the next game, so if we can get all of them going at the same time, that will be nice to have.”

The Packers spend roughly an hour a day working on their hitting technique in several different stations. If that isn’t enough, the team will keep working.

“We take a lot of hitting in practice – probably more than any other team,” said senior catcher Michaela Liebl, who leads the team with a .534 batting average and ten home runs. “Everybody takes a bucket of balls, but if I’m not hitting the way I think I should be, Pat is the kind of coach that will accommodate to you.”

Last year’s state championship Packer team had four senior girls that left the team with batting averages over .400. Johnson – with over 20 years experience coach West Fargo softball – knew the offensive potency would have to come from somewhere else, so he made sure his team had enough practice.

“It was an area we knew we had to target,” Johnson said. You have got to replace what you lose and bring the next group up to speed. No one is going to feel sorry for us.”

This season, five girls are batting over .400 and the team’s only two seniors Liebl and Brittany Rheault – are currently over .500 on the season.

“I think some of them have surprised themselves a little bit – that they can hit as well as they can,” Johnson said. “We have kind of always known they can swing the bats well. Now they just have to be consistent with it.”

Liebl has always believed the team would have a solid season at the plate, but admitted her offensive prowess this season has surprised her a bit.

“It is nice to see some of my hard work has paid off,” Liebl said. “I have that confidence in the batter’s box that I have always wanted. I feel a lot more comfortable.”

While she is happy with the runs the team is scoring, Liebl would like the team score them earlier to take some pressure of the Packer’s pitchers.

“Coming out and scoring early is something we need to strive for,” Liebl said. “We basically score our runs in the third or fourth inning. After we see the pitcher once, we get more comfortable, but it shouldn’t be a problem for us.”

The state tournament begins on Thursday in Bismarck, with the team facing Bismarck Century in the quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m., and all Johnson wants to see from the roster is a calm, level swing from every batter.

“I’m just hoping for the good swings that we have been working on,” Johnson said. “We fall in the pattern of trying to do more than we should. Each pitcher is a little different, so we just have to relax and take the swings we know how to take.”