It wouldn't be a Class A state softball championship game without West Fargo.
West Fargo senior pitcher Brittany Rheault assured the Packers' 17th straight trip to the championship with a state-tournament record 15 strikeouts in their 7-1 victory over Dickinson in the semifinals Friday at South Hill Complex. West Fargo plays Bishop Ryan in the title game for the third straight season today at approximately 5:30 p.m.
"Every year is a different group, so it never gets old because you never know if you'll get back there again," West Fargo coach Pat Johnson said. "Even though we've been there a lot, every year is a challenge. Every team is gunning for you and some of the teams that you thought wouldn't win won or they gave other teams all they wanted. I think it's exciting just to get here and have an opportunity."
West Fargo senior pitcher Brittany Rheault struck out a Class A state tournament-record 15 batters during the Packers’ 7-1 victory over Dickinson in the semifinals Friday at South Hill Complex.
It began as a pitchers' duel between Rheault and Dickinson senior Haley Butterfield. Rheault allowed a baserunner in each of the first three innings, but none advanced past second. She struck out the side in the first and added two more in the second. West Fargo's first two batters reached base to open the first, but Butterfield got a pop up and two strikeouts to end the threat. She had four strikeouts through two innings.
The Packers (29-1) broke through in the third thanks in part to three Dickinson errors. Morgan Geiszler reached base on a throwing error to lead off the frame and junior Rachael McGrady laid down a sacrifice bunt and forced the Midgets' second error in as many batters as Butterfield's throw was off target, allowing Geiszler to advance to third and McGrady to second. Rheault walked to load the bases with no outs. Butterfield retired the next two batters without allowing a run, but Geiszler scored on a wild pitch and West Fargo junior Paige Andel hit a shot down the line that went through Dickinson third baseman Riana Cooper's legs to plate two more.
"I think we had four errors and a wild pitch in one inning and they scored three or four," Dickinson coach Bill Butterfield said. "With their quality pitcher, you're not going to score a bunch on her."
Sam Dullum singled to right to score Andel. The four-run cushion was more than enough for Rheault.
"I felt like it was a very good start and I was proud of Morgan for getting the bats going right away," Rheault said. "I don't think any amount of runs is enough run support in big games."
The Midgets (26-6) scratched across a run in the fourth, but Rheault struck out the side in both that inning and the sixth to tie the previous state tournament record of 13. She set the mark in the seventh, getting Riley Cooper looking. Rheault ended the game by fanning Avery Privratsky.
"It was obviously very awesome to have that record set, but also just having my team behind me and supporting me through that," Rheault said. "That's all I could ever ask for. I was excited, but also excited for the game my team played tonight."
Rheault broke the previous single-game record set by Bismarck's Jenna Steele in 2010. She also bested former teammate Kacie Johnson's tournament mark of 25 set that same year. Rheault has 27 strikeouts in two starts and will get the nod again tonight against Ryan, which she has shut out the last two championship games. Still, Johnson believes her best performance of the tournament is yet to come.
"I think she's got a better game in her yet," he said. "You expect to be able to compete and give us a chance and that's what she does and hopefully we can do that again tomorrow."
Dickinson plays Fargo Davies for third place today at approximately 1 p.m.
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.