#1E Kindred-Richland vs #4W Heart River - Game 1, 11:00 am
Kindred-Richland has been at the top of my power rankings all season long and the defending state champs will be tough to stop. There is a great storyline to this matchup with some family flavor. Kindred-Richland junior pitcher Theresa Klinnert is the younger sister of Heart River assistant coach Greta Klinnert. So, that should make it fun for mom and dad! Klinnert is one of the standouts on this Vikings squad. She leads the team with a .543 BA and 33 RBI. Klinnert and Elizabeth Saewert have combined for 6 shutouts, 2 no-hitters and a 0.88 ERA. The defending state champions have so many great hitters. In addition to Klinnert, Mikayla Reinke (.480 BA, 20 RBI) and Haley Thompson (.446 BA, 15 RBI) anchor a potent lineup. Reinke went 2-for-4 with four RBI in last year’s championship game and she’s been one of the most consistent threats all season long for the Vikings. Co-head coach Cory Johnson says, “Our success at state will depend on the same things we have done all year: solid pitching, few errors, and taking advantage of our opportunities to score.” Heart River is in the state tournament for the first time since establishing a program in 2015. The Cougars gave west top seed Des Lacs-Burlington its toughest test of the year in the West Region semifinals in an 8-7 Lakers victory that took nine innings. So, the Vikings will need to bring their A-game to avoid a first round upset.
#2W Watford City vs #3E Hillsboro-CV – Game 2, 1:30 p.m.
The Watford City Wolves enter state as the 2-seed from the west region after falling to Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark 4-3 in the region final. The Wolves have 8 players hitting over .400 (30 AB minimum). Mikka Haugeberg (.566 BA, 13 RBI, 21 runs) and Kamryn Grimes (.544 BA, 24 RBI, 25 runs, 2 HR) lead a potent offense that ranks among the highest scoring in the state. Haugeberg is also the team’s starting pitcher and boasts a 4-1 record to go with 68.1 IP, 105 K and a 3.17 ERA. “We have a determined group of players who are ready and at the peak of their performances thus far”, says head coach Devin Langerud. “Our pitching has been excellent and our defense will have to work hard not to let anything through.” Hillsboro-Central Valley counters with a strong offense of its own, hitting .427 as a team. Cory Erickson’s team set a new program record with 12 wins this season, which is evidence that hard work pays off. “We aren’t a flashy team by any means, but we have a lot of experienced players on our roster. All of our starters and most of our reserves play between 40 and 50 softball games a year.” The players are gaining that experience by playing on summer league teams, which Erickson feels will be a benefit when it comes to the state tournament atmosphere. The Burros lone senior is their main pitcher Caitlyn Stuart who has a 9-2 record to go with 68.1 IP, 68 K, and a 3.585 ERA. The lineup is potent with Laura Spurgeon (.596 BA, 27 RBI, 25 runs) and Hannah Buzick (.569 BA, 21 RBI, 22 runs) in the three and four spots, respectively.
#1W Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark vs #4E MayPort-C-G – Game 3, 4:00 p.m.
22 games played and 22 wins…that’s the story for the Des Lacs-Burlington/Lewis & Clark Lakers. They’ve been the best team all season on the western half of the state and they’re ready to make their mark in the final eight. Despite their dominant record, the Lakers know how to win the close games. Five of their victories have been decided by one run, including two in the region playoffs. 8th grader Brooklyn Benno and 9th grader Erica Hermanson lead a young, but talented pitching staff that surrenders just 3.9 runs/game. Shayla Sauer and Erica Moen are both hitting over .500 this season for the Lakers. MayPort-C-G is the “cinderella” of the tournament. The Patriots were never ranked during the season, featured no all-conference selections and is the only team in the state tournament field that isn’t ranked in the top 10. 1st year head coach Harry Lipsiea has his team playing well at the perfect time, “We are so proud of this group. All season long, we have been competitive and have had our chances against top teams in the East Region. In the post-season, the girls have come up with key stops and big hits that we didn’t earlier in the season.” Lipsiea is also impressed with the composure of his freshman pitcher Ellie Bergstrom who is 7-6 in the circle with a 3.28 ERA. Offensively, the Patriots are led by freshman Dallas Jorgensen (.458 BA, 20 RBI). Senior Ali Hutter is also having a strong finish to her career with a .395 BA and 17 RBI.
#2E Central Cass vs #3W Wilton-Wing – Game 4, 6:30 p.m.
Central Cass has been ranked #2 in my power rankings for much of the year and that’s because their only losses have come against Class “A” favorite West Fargo and Class “B” favorite Kindred-Richland. Squirrels head coach Scott Kost says, “We need to be aggressive – pitching and at the plate. We can be a pretty good team when we attack.” The Squirrels have five players with 25+ RBI this season: Payton Richter (39), Madison Sweep (38), Maddy Foss (30), Halie Holzer (27) and Leah Shatzke (25). Those are some incredible offensive numbers. The trio of Richter, Foss and Lexi Buhr make up the pitching rotation for Central Cass. Richter’s 1.17 ERA is one of the many reasons that Central Cass has a great shot at claiming the program’s first state title since 2015 and third overall. It won’t be easy because Wilton-Wing has been steadily climbing onto the radar this season, highlighted by a 12-game win streak that was snapped by Watford City in the west region semifinals. As any softball coach will tell you, you need a good pitcher and that’s what the Miners have in West Region Senior player of the year McKenna Weisenburger (14-3 record and .509 BA, 21 RBI). Weisenburger was a 2-time all-state catcher, but switched positions because the team graduated their top pitcher last spring. Karlee Arnold is another hot hitter that is hitting at an average of .447 with a team best 23 RBI. Weisenburger and Arnold anchor a strong senior class that’s hoping to improve upon last year’s performance at state in which they went 0-3.
My championship prediction: Kindred-Richland defeats Central Cass
These two have been the best teams all season long, so it’s no surprise that I’ve put them in my championship game. They always say it’s hard to beat a team three straight times in a season, but I think the Vikings will be able to get it done. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be that surprised to see Central Cass pull it off if they reach the final because they’ve played the Vikings tough this year. But, we’ve seen Kindred-Richland prove itself in these situations before. The Vikings won 3 games in 2 days against Class A opponents at the Jamboree a few weeks ago and they won 3 games in 4 days in the East Region playoffs. I think they’ll make it back-to-back titles and add to an already historic season in Kindred high athletics.