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Kevin Schnepf, Published July 27 2010

North Dakota American Legion Class A state tournament: Pats bring aces on the hill

Matt Strahm’s fastball has been described as “sneaky fast.”

“My catcher tells me the same thing,” said Strahm, a left-handed pitcher for West Fargo’s American Legion baseball team. “He says I can hide the ball pretty good.”

There’s no hiding the fact that Strahm, and fellow pitcher Tanner Dahl, are big reasons West Fargo is the Eastern Division’s top seed heading into this week’s North Dakota Class A state tournament in Bismarck.

The numbers don’t lie.

Strahm, who gave up only one earned run during his first four starts of the season, boasts a 6-0 record. Dahl, a right-hander, has a 7-1 record – his only loss coming against Bismarck.

The one-two punch helped West Fargo allow only eight runs during its three Eastern Division tournament wins last week at Jack Williams Stadium.

“If they throw like that at state, I hope we don’t face them,” said Fargo Post 2 coach Jeff Fiechtner.

“With those two, you have a chance to win even if the bats are cold,” said coach Bill Ibach, whose West Fargo Patriots take a 30-16 record into Wednesday’s 11 a.m. first-round state tournament game against Williston.

About three weeks after the state tournament, Strahm will head down to Chanute, Kan., where he will play 35 baseball games this fall at Neosho Community College and 50 more next spring.

“I can’t wait to get down there and play more baseball,” said Strahm, who has been relying on his curve ball and “sneaky” fastball this season.

“He doesn’t look like he’s that fast, but some college coaches clocked him at 84, 85 miles per hour,” Ibach said. “He’s just kind of smooth out there.”

Equally as effective has been Dahl, who has one more year of high school baseball and two more years of Legion ball. Dahl figures two of his four pitches – a changeup, fastball, slider or curve – usually work.

“The changeup is usually on,” Dahl said.

“He gets good hitters out with that changeup by making them take less than their best swing,” Ibach said. “We saw that over the weekend.”

Ibach also saw his team produce 39 runs in three games at the Eastern Division tournament.

Led by leadoff hitter Spencer Flaten – who is heading to Jamestown College to play baseball – the Patriots have boosted their team batting average to .310.

“He sets the table for us,” Ibach said of Flaten, a .400-plus hitter. “He’s just a leader. We follow him.”

Ibach is hoping it leads to a state championship. With eight seasons of head coacing at Fargo and his first season at West Fargo, Ibach says this is the most wide open he has seen a state tournament.

“I just think any of the eight teams could win this tournament … I really do,” Ibach said. “It’s a state tournament. You can be done in two games or you can be playing on Sunday.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549