A change of scenery may be just what the West Fargo American Legion Baseball team needs.
Post 308's state championship defense got off to a great start, as the Patriots won nine of their first 11 games to open the season. But success was much more fleeting in the ensuing weeks, as West Fargo proceeded to win just five of its next 15 games.
This stretch was punctuated by a rough three-game run against Fargo teams in early July. After surrendering 24 hits in a 21-4 loss to Post 2, West Fargo committed 11 total errors in a pair of extra-inning losses to Post 400.
But with a healthy amount of talent returning from last year's deep postseason run, Patriot coach Jordan Rheault's confidence in his team remains strong despite those difficulties.
"It's nothing to panic about," Rheault said. "It’s one of those things where a couple of guys fall into slumps, maybe the team falls into a funk and I think at the start of the year we really showed how good we can be and I think we’ll flip that around in time for the postseason.”
As the regular season winds down, the Patriots' resolve will be tested on and off the field. A July 10 contest against Fargo was the Patriots' final home game, with their final 11 regular season games coming on the road. This included a recent four-day, six-game run at the Gopher Classic Minneapolis, as well three-plus hour trips to Dickinson and Mandan for doubleheaders this week.
While acknowledging the challenges of extended road trip, Rheault says navigating them will be critical if this team hopes to again be a contender in the postseason.
"I think that benefits us a lot," he said. "Our state tournament is on the road. We’re going to have to learn how to play on the road and learn how to play on the road at a high level if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish at the end of the season.”
So far, the time away from home has been kind to the Patriots.
Competing in the Gopher Classic, West Fargo went 6-1, scoring at least six runs four wins of their wins, then capped the run off with a 4-3 win over Manitoba on a walkoff single by Cooper Borchardt.
The defense, for the most part, also recovered from the poor showing against Post 400. After committing just five errors in the first games of the tournament, the Patriots equaled that total in the game against Manitoba.
Pitching was also strong, with Ryan Froemke tossing a three-hit shutout in a 3-0 win over Woodbury Monday.
Getting away from their home base also provides the team with new social opportunities. During the Gopher Classic, Patriot players were unable to unwind with a trip to the Mall of America and a golf outing at Topgolf.
“It’s one of those things where we try to pack in as much fun with as much baseball as possible," Rheault said. "There’s a lot of stories to be told for each kid in each season outside of baseball. It’s not all about playing 50 games and trying to get the best record, it’s about having the best time with your friends and teammates.”
Rheault says competition may extend to the team's hotel. Openly boastful about his skills at the popular NBA 2K video game series, the coach is aiming to return to the top of the leaderboard after Patriot players Lance Oster and Dustin Mertz defeated him in the championship game of a recent team tournament.
Even if his team can't be perfect, Rheault thinks it can be good enough to once again challenge for the state's top prize.
"These funks, they happen," he said. "It's about how we rebound and when we rebound and when we rebound and I think that's going to be sooner rather than later."