Class A softball final a family affair

WEST FARGO – Bishop Ryan assistant softball coach Erin Loucks smiled wide, but refused to acknowledge that it just may feel good to beat her father’s West Fargo team in tonight’s Class A softball state championship.

“Not gonna say that,” Loucks said before Ryan’s semifinal game Friday.

Her father, Pat Johnson, has guided the Packers to 15 straight championships, including the first four since the sport was sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association in 2009.

Loucks said her father, 51, has been “very sportsmanlike” toward Ryan this week and assisted the team in getting field time. The 24-year-old West Fargo graduate (2006) is not afraid to give him grief though. In fact, playful banter is commonplace in their relationship.

“It’s actually funny ’cause we demean ourselves,” Loucks said. “So we have a contest to see who can make themselves look and feel the worst and whoever wins that wins the contest and then it’s over because we’re laughing too much.”

There won’t be much laughing during tonight’s game, but family gamesmanship could be on full display.

“(Loucks) knows a little bit about their program,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “If it’s an advantage, maybe, but, you know, maybe she thinks a little bit like he does, so she can maybe think ahead of what he may do here or what he does do.

“But he also may counter that with ‘This is what she’ll think I’ll do.’ “

Loucks, the director of human resources at ManorCare, moved to Minot a year ago. The Concordia College (Minn.) alum was holding pitching lessons with a student in Lansford, whose father is a friend of fellow Ryan assistant Steve Lipp.

“Sometimes it’s hard to go against your (former) team, but it’s all for a good cause,” Loucks said. “It’s softball. Gotta love that.”

If Ryan pulls out the win and avenges last year’s 1-0 loss to West Fargo in the championship, Loucks probably won’t rub it in too much.

“He taught me everything I know, so to use that to help another team is very great,” she said.

“It’s always about the sport and making sure that you’re playing and every team plays their hardest and whoever comes out, comes out. And he respects that and I respect that and it will be a little hard at first, but we’ll get over it.”

Johnson was taking the all-business approach after the Packers’ walk-off win over Bismarck Century in the first semifinal.

“It’s just another team. We played them last year,” he said. “They’re a good team, so I’m focusing on their pitchers and their hitters and their fielding. So to tell you the truth, it doesn’t matter who’s coaching. … I think she’s the trash talker. I’m trying to be nice and mellow, but she keeps trash-talking me.”

Then his daughter walked by: “He’s a liar. Everything he says. He’s such a liar.”

Said Johnson: “I said you were the greatest thing I ever had.”