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Tom Mix, Published August 06 2013

West Fargo Patriots hoping to take next step

WEST FARGO – Last summer, the West Fargo Patriots got to experience playing in the Central Plains Regional American Legion baseball tournament.

The Patriots are hoping the second time around at the event goes better than their 2012 trip, which resulted in an early exit after West Fargo lost its first two games.

West Fargo earned a chance at redemption by playing back into the North Dakota Class A state championship game last week.

With Fargo Post 2 as their opponent in the title game, the Patriots knew they would advance to the regional round win or lose due to North Dakota automatically qualifying its top two teams by rule, because Post 2 was serving as regional host.

The Patriots (40-18) open with a 5 p.m. matchup against Nebraska state champions Creighton Prep on Thursday at Jack Williams Stadium.

“The key to making it through the state tournament was everyone contributed, especially in swinging the bats,” West Fargo center fielder Kory Wolden said. “The top of the lineup is expected to produce, but the bottom of our lineup carried us through the state tournament. That is something we are going to really need in this tournament as well.”

West Fargo went 5-2 at the state tournament last week and played three games in which a loss would have ended its season.

“It shows that we have good will to make it all the way back,” Wolden said of the Patriots’ run in the play-back bracket. “I honestly didn’t know if we were going to, because we were going to have to play four or five games, but we made it to Sunday. Coach (Bill Ibach) said, ‘If we made it to Sunday, he liked our chances.’”

“The same can be said with this tournament,” Wolden added. “If we make it far enough, we like our chances.”

West Fargo has eight players returning from last year’s Central Plains Regional squad.

“We felt like last year was a bit of a disappointment going 0-2,” West Fargo right fielder Landon Uetz said. “We went into the tournament thinking we had as a good of a chance as anyone to win it. The first loss brought us down a bit, and before we knew it, we were packing our bags and heading home.”

“This time we’ll learn from that and hopefully we can execute a little better,” Uetz added.

West Fargo is batting .325 as a team and is led by Andy Young, who is batting .432 with team highs in home runs (12), hits (70) RBIs (63), walks (38) and doubles (25). Young also has seen success pitching, going 6-1 with two saves and a 1.62 ERA in 58 innings.

Outfielder Devin Wagenman is batting .377 with 32 RBIs. Uetz has a .358 average with 15 doubles and 36 RBIs. Wolden, the team’s leadoff hitter, is batting .348 and has a .466 on-base percentage.

“Last year I left with some regret,” Wolden said. “We had such a good shot of doing well, but that first game just ripped our hearts out. This year we definitely have to come ready for a battle. A nine-inning game is so much different than a seven-inning game. We have to be ready for anything and know that we have nine innings to prove ourselves.”

Uetz said scoring runs early on will be important for West Fargo this week. The Patriots scored at least one run in the first inning of all but one of its five wins during the state tournament.

“Pitching and defense will be key because every team there obviously is going to be swinging the bats well,” Uetz said. “Each team either won their state tournament or took runner-up, so every team is at this tournament for a reason.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562