MINOT, N.D. - West Fargo couldn’t crack the code.
Nearly every at-bat seemed to end in the same result for the East Region No. 3-seeded Packers on Friday during their 3-0 loss to West Region No. 4-seeded Minot High School in the Class A baseball state semifinals.
The primary cause of West Fargo’s misery: Minot pitcher Blake Smith. The senior lived up to his school’s mascot, as the Magician pulled out every trick in the book.
Fastballs. Changeups. The occasional curveball. You name it. Nothing was off the table for Smith, as he stifled the same Packer offense that lit up Dickinson for 18 runs just over 24 hours prior in the opening round.
A pair of RBIs by seniors Alex Schimke and Kyler Stenberg, plus an unearned run in the top of the third inning gave the Magi an early 3-0 edge.
The defense did the rest. Smith and company kept West Fargo off the board for six innings, allowing just four hits in the process.
“I just tried to go out there and throw strikes, and the guys behind me did a great job, too,” Smith said. “We’re just a solid team that knows what we have to do to get it done.”
But the senior ace showed signs of being human in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After forcing a groundout on the first at-bat, Smith pegged West Fargo sophomore Tyler Rued on the shoulder with a stray pitch. The senior then walked West Fargo junior Casey Reber to bring the game-tying run, Carter Evenson, to the plate.
Pete Stenberg had seen enough. The Minot High head coach called time, walked over to the mound and collected the ball from his veteran ace.
“Blake Smith threw a heck of a ballgame,” Stenberg said. “We wanted to give him a chance to finish that, and he got one out, but it was just time to turn it over.”
The crowd gave Smith a well-deserved round of applause as he walked away, but even the kind gesture couldn’t fully hide the tension that was growing in Corbett Field as the Packers were now knocking on the door.
That’s when Chase Burke came in. The sophomore closer, cool as could be, made his way to the mound and began warming up as the soothing tune “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 played on the speakers.
He had this covered.
“Just throw strikes,” Burke said when asked what was going through his mind. “I just wanted to get those last two outs to get us to the state championship.”
With a 1-2 count, Burke sent a bullet of a pitch in Evenson’s direction. The West Fargo senior watched as the ball zipped past him and found the bottom-right corner of the strike zone, sending him back to the dugout as the crowd erupted.
Now Carter Birrenkott walked up to the plate. Fresh off a 2-for-3 showing with four RBIs and two runs against the Midgets, the sophomore slugger had no intentions of letting his team’s title hopes end on his watch.
It made no difference.
With a 0-1 count, Birrenkott connected on a pitch from Burke and sent a pop fly into right field. Kyler Stenberg was there for the routine snag, securing the Magi’s 3-0 win and punching their ticket to the state championship game.
Schimke finished with one RBI and one run on 2-for-4 hitting, while Kyler Stenberg tallied one RBI on 1-for-3 hitting.