West Fargo too much for Lions in championship

On occasion, cliches don’t ring true. Saturday afternoon provided one of those instances.

The third time wasn’t the charm for Bishop Ryan’s softball team, which fell once again to West Fargo in the Class A state championship game.

The Packers, now 17-time defending champions, capitalized on six Ryan errors in dealing the Lions a 10-1 loss at South Hill Complex.

“It was just one of those days. It wasn’t our day all the way around,” Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. “We knew we had to play not a perfect game, but as flawless as we could. Those errors can be costly sometimes.”

For the third straight year, West Fargo ace Brittany Rheault kept Ryan from scoring an earned run. She held the Lions scoreless in 1-0 victories in the title game the past two years – both contests in West Fargo. The change in venue didn’t faze the powerhouse Packers.

“We knew here it was going to be 18 versus a town because there’s a lot of people,” said West Fargo’s Pat Johnson, who was named Class A coach of the year. “We wanted to keep the crowd out of it as much and as long as possible.”

The Lions (28-3) plated an unearned run in the bottom of the first, taking a rare lead on West Fargo. Then the Packers (30-1) closed the game with 10 unanswered runs, taking advantage of Ryan miscues with every opportunity.

“Honestly, I think them scoring that first run is the best thing that could happen to us because we’re a team that thrives on responding back after we get down,” said Rheault, the Class A senior athlete of the year. “I think that was a good thing to get us in the game even more and to make us go even harder.”

West Fargo knotted it at 1 in the top of the second, then tacked on four in the fourth, two in the sixth and three in the seventh. Only four of their runs were earned.

“We made a lot of uncharacteristic errors that we haven’t made all year,” Stewart said. “I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if we were nervous. I don’t think we ever got settled it. It was a surprise to me that it happened the way it did.”

Meanwhile, Rheault found her groove. After West Fargo fell behind 1-0, she set down 15 of the next 16 batters she faced, with 10 coming on strikeouts. The senior right-hander scattered four hits, walked one and struck out 14 – one shy of the single-game tournament-record 15 she set against Dickinson in the semifinals. Her 41 strikeouts shattered the old record of 25 in a tournament, which was set by West Fargo’s Kacie Johnson in 2010.

“I just think it’s something we’re not used to seeing,” Stewart said. “I think it’s hard for them to pick up where the pitch is going to land because they’re not used to it. At times we were striking out on that third pitch that was (a high fastball). Not that they were swinging all over the place, they just weren’t getting a read on it.”

The Lions had their 27-game winning streak snapped and fell to 0-3 all-time in state championship games. They lose seven seniors – Maddie Lipp, Sydney Marmon, Macy Christianson, Anika Rovig, Brieann Backes, McKenzie Ebert and Alex Smith – to graduation.

Junior Hannah Stewart and sophomore Sheyenne Schmidt found some success against Rheault. Stewart went 2-for-2 with an RBI and a walk, while Schmidt was 1-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt.

Stewart (13-3) suffered the loss, allowing five runs – one earned – on five hits and four walks over five innings.

“All I can say is that a lot of these kids have competed in five state championship contests (including two in Class B basketball),” Julie Stewart said. “They’re sad right now, but they don’t understand that people are proud just to be in one in their lifetime.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.