BISMARCK — A different kind of summer baseball season ended in familiar fashion on Saturday.
Cole Hage launched a two-run home run and pitcher Zach Sandy fired 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief as Fargo Post 2 edged West Fargo 5-4 to win the North Dakota Class 2A Senior Babe Ruth baseball state championship at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
It was the 28th summer title for Post 2, and fifth in the past six years, this one under the Senior Babe Ruth banner after American Legion opted not to have a baseball season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The win, however, was no less sweet.
"It was a unique season with how there was no Legion or regionals or World Series due to the circumstances going on in the world right now," Sandy said. "To win it with these guys, it's probably my last time playing with a lot of them, it truly feels like a blessing."
It was an emotional win for Post 2 and Sandy, who entered the game with two outs in the top of the third and allowed just two hits the rest of the way.
"I know Jim Pete is smiling up in heaven," he said, referring to the longtime vice chairman of Fargo American Legion Post 2 baseball, who died in April following a battle with COVID-19. "I think we made him proud today."
Post 2 had to earn it.
West Fargo scored the first two runs and tied it at 4-all in the top of the third.
The only run over the final four innings, which proved to be the game-winner, came in the bottom of the fourth. Sam Moser led off with a single and was bunted to second by Danny Boutain. Leadoff man Jace Dew followed with a sharp single to right field to put Post 2 ahead for good.
"One of the really great characteristics of this group of kids is they never get too high and they never get too low. We've been behind in games this year and had to come back. I think we had 11 or 12 wins in our last at-bat," Post 2 coach Luke Rustad said. "West Fargo is a terrific team. We knew it'd be a hard-fought game. … Before the game I just told the guys to rely on their past experiences when things get close."
West Fargo took the lead on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch off the foot of Cooper Borchardt in the top of the second. The next batter, leadoff man Brayden Jacobson, made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly that scored Anthony Villanueva.
It was a great day at the plate for Villanueva. After going 2-for-2 in the elimination game against Bismarck earlier in the day, he added a 3-for-3 performance against Post 2. West Fargo defeated Bismarck 7-5 to make the title game.
"We have a true team, up and down the lineup. Same with our pitching staff. We've gotten contributions from so many guys this season," West Fargo coach Jordan Rheault said. "We have 18 guys that compete their butts off and I love to watch them."
Down 2-0, Post 2 stormed in front in their half of the second inning.
With two outs, Andrew Linn and Danny Boutain hit back-to-back singles. Dew was up next and plated both with a one-hop double off the right-field fence.
Hage, headed to Columbia of the Ivy League to play NCAA Division I baseball, followed with a towering drive to left-center field that cleared the 388-foot sign for a two-run home run.
West Fargo had a quick answer in the third. With two on and two out, Villanueva doubled home Ryan Reynolds and Lance Oster to tie the game at 4-4.
"I think the performance today relates to the character and resiliency of our team," Rheault said. "To beat a quality team like Bismarck and then give ourselves a great chance against a team like Post 2, I couldn't be any prouder of this team. I love the guys. I love the team. I'm just so glad we got to play baseball this summer."
Over the final four innings, Sandy and West Fargo reliever Alex Urlaub dueled. Urlaub, who allowed just two hits in four innings, was tagged with the loss.
West Fargo's final record stood at 44-15, while Post 2 won 46 of their 53 games in a season that at several points looked like it may not happen.
"Set aside the results, and obviously we're thrilled with the how the season went and how today played out, but I'm just so thankful we got to have a season," Rustad said. "We have a lot of seniors. I've been around them so much. They're like family. I could not have imagined not getting to be with them one more time before they leave your life.”
Sandy agreed with Rustad.
"We've made so many great memories along the way. We've been playing together since we were 10 years old," he said. "It's been a challenging year obviously for everybody with everything that has gone on. To be able to play together this summer and win this tournament, this really is one of those moments we'll never forget."