By RYAN HOLMGREN
Bishop Ryan senior Brieann Backes saved some magic for the final pitching start of her career.
She allowed baserunners in every inning, but escaped unscathed each time in the Lions’ 5-0 Class A state tournament semifinal victory over Fargo Davies on Friday at South Hill Complex.
Backes, who improved to 15-0, tossed a complete-game four-hitter with three walks and five strikeouts.
“I like it when the pressure’s on, I guess,” Backes said of her escape artistry. “Sometimes I get myself down in the counts, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but I know that my field will back me up if something does go wrong.”
Backes will return to third base today as junior Hannah Stewart is projected to start in the circle for Ryan (28-2) in the state championship game at approximately 5:30 p.m. against 16-time defending champion West Fargo.
Davies (14-1) will play Dickinson for third place at 1 p.m.
The Lions, as they did against Shanley in the quarterfinals, claimed a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Sophomore center fielder Sheyenne Schmidt slid head-first into second with a double, then scored on the first of Stewart’s three singles.
The Eagles put a runner in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth but never produced a timely hit to knot the score.
“We wanted to keep them to pretty low scoring,” Davies coach David Marquardt said. “If we could get a few runs in the first inning or two, we knew that would be huge. That was our goal. We had the runners on, but hits didn’t come through for us.”
Backes’ composure in sticky situations bought Ryan time to heat up its bats. eventually tacking on a run in the fifth.
Senior catcher Maddie Lipp drew a one-out walk, then sped to third on Schmidt’s sacrifice bunt. Stewart ripped a single to center to score Lipp, giving Backes a bit more breathing room.
She nearly needed it.
Backes, who lowered her ERA to 1.07, allowed Davies’ first two batters to reach base. Sophomore pitcher Carla Binde singled to center, but was thrown out stealing by Lipp. Senior right fielder Haley Heitzman walked, but was stranded at third.
Lipp threw out two runners and the Lions ended the game with a double play.
“Anytime you can get those great plays, it just gives you a boost,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “It gives you a boost of energy and excitement.”
Ryan tacked on three runs in the sixth – all off the bat of senior right fielder Alex Smith.
With classmates McKenzie Ebert and Macy Christianson – pinch-running for sophomore Anna Petz – on second and first, Smith lifted a double to deep left-center. Davies’ errant throw to the plate, attempting to deny Christianson, ricocheted down the first baseline and allowed Smith to score.
“It was just a good feeling knowing that I at least got two extra runs in even if I didn’t get in,” Smith said.
Davies eighth-grader Carly Kottsick reached on an error in the top of the seventh, but junior Shelby Malmanger lined out to Backes, who threw to first to double up Kottsick and end the game.
Binde suffered the loss, giving up four earned runs on nine hits and a walk while striking out two.
Hannah Stewart led Ryan with a 3-for-3 performance, while Petz finished 2-for-3.
Now, the Lions draw a familiar foe in West Fargo. The two teams have met in the past two state championship games, with the Packers winning both 1-0.
Ryan hopes its depth and experience are enough to get it over the hump and end West Fargo’s reign.
“This is our fifth tournament,” Smith said. “I think we’ve played West Fargo in the majority of the tournaments. We’re ready, we’ve seen it, we know what we’re doing and we’re just ready to go for it.”
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.