WEST FARGO — There weren’t many times this season when Enderlin/Maple Valley pitcher Kaylee Johnson felt genuine nerves.
But she admits had some butterflies as she fielded an otherwise-routine ground ball with two outs in the top of the seventh inning of Saturday’s 2-1 Class B state championship win over Central Cass at Elmwood Park.
“It was just ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening,’” Johnson said.
A quick, easy throw to first baseman Lakken Boeder not only ended the game, but also made history.
The throw clinched the first-ever North Dakota Class B state softball championship.
In the moment, the Falcons rushed toward the pitching circle. There were hugs, smiles and tears of joy.
“It feels really good,” said second baseman Abbie Tinjum, who scored both of the Falcons’ runs in the game.
If that weren’t enough, Kaylee and Megan Johnson were named to the Class B All-State team and coach Neva Hamre was named the Class B Coach of the Year.
It was one of the closest games the team played all season and one of two, also against Central Cass, decided by one run.
Many of the Falcons knew it would be close and the rematch of the South Region championship game left little room for error.
After putting together 33 total hits in the first two days of the state tournament, the Falcons had trouble finding the gaps on the field and were limited to six hits.
Their run production ended up coming from Tinjum, the team’s ultra-quick leadoff hitter.
Tinjum led off the game with a single, swiped second base and then got to third on an infield grounder by Cassie Pautz. She then scored on a single by Krista Thielges.
A double by Megan Johnson put her and Theilges in scoring position, but the Falcons’ next two hitters flew out to end the inning.
It was a similar dilemma in the third when Johnson had another double that put her and Pautz in scoring position with two outs. The runners were stranded again.
Defensively, the team worked well behind Johnson’s play in the circle. In the first four innings only three batters reached base, including one on an error.
But after getting a groundout to start the fifth, Kaylee Johnson faced some minor control issues.
Bethany Voss had a single up the middle, then reached second on a passed ball. The next two batters, Mercedes Sweep and Kennedy Bresnahan, then reached on walks to load the bases.
A fielders choice grounder to second kept a run from scoring, but Sierra Amunson then walked on a full count to tie the game at 1-1.The next batter grounded out to third base to end the inning.
Hamre said she was pleased with how Kaylee Johnson handled the pressure of the inning, especially given that she’s a sophomore.
“She recomposed herself, came back and fought through it,” Hamre said.
Tinjum then led off the bottom of the inning with a single and stole second.
Pautz reached after laying down a bunt, which led to an overthrow on a close play at first. As the play went on, Tinjum rounded third and scored the deciding run.
She finished the tournament with 10 runs scored, nearly a quarter of the 45 the Falcons had.
“Abbie is just our spark plug,” Hamre said. “Many times, if we can get her on base, we can win ball games. She never thinks about it, she just does her job and does it very, very well.”
Tinjum is confident in her speed and said the runs are due, in part, to her production at the plate.
“I’ve been hitting the ball better lately than I was at the beginning of the season, which really helps.”
Both teams went down in order in the sixth inning, and the only hiccup that Central Cass had the rest of the game was when Kaylee Johnson made an error that allowed a runner to reach with two outs in the top of the seventh.
“I think I just got a little bit too anxious and overthought everything,” she said. “I definitely wasn’t going to miss that (next) one.”
The game ending throw came on the next play.
The team ends the season with an 18-1 record. All 18 wins came after an opening-day loss to Hankinson-Fairmont
“It definately did motivate us because we knew we could beat them,” Johnson said, noting that when the teams met again at the end of the season, EMV won 19-0.
“They knew after that that they had to be prepared for anybody,” Hamre said. “It didn’t matter if they were a brand new team or if they had been playing for a lot of years. We had to play our game.
“We stopped looking to the future then and we just played inning by inning and out by out.”