Strong start lifts Falcons in state opener

WEST FARGO — All season long, Enderlin/Maple Valley softball coach Neva Hamre knew her top two pitchers were sophomore Kaylee Johnson and junior Cassie Pautz. But with the success Johnson had throughout the season, Pautz didn’t log a single pitch at the varsity level.
Until Thursday, that was, when she took to the circle in the Falcons’ 18-2 win over Pembina County North to open the Class B state softball tournament at Elmwood Park in West Fargo.
“I only pitched two JV games, so it was a little nerve wracking,” Pautz said.
But she took a breath, per a request from her coach, and gave the team four solid innings of work, allowing only two hits and two runs.
“We thought tonight we’d give her a shot just to save Kaylee’s arm,” EMV coach Neva Hamre said. “You never know how many innings we have to go the next few days.”
Hamre was pleased with the outing. She said the team worked all week with players in different positions, so both Johnson and Pautz were comfortable in different spots on the field.
Pautz finished the game an inning shy of a complete game. Johnson came in for the final inning.
Otherwise, it was much of the same for the potent Falcon offense, which scored 11 runs in the first inning.
Abbie Tinjum started the inning with a walk, then used her speed to get to third. She scored when PCN’s catcher threw the ball to first on a dropped third strike.
Krista Thielges then reached base on a dropped third, which was followed by a double by catcher Megan Johnson and a triple by Kaylee Johnson.
By the time Taylor Benneweis got the second out of the inning, the Falcons were up 4-0.
The Falcons then reached the next seven batters, scoring six of them and one runner that was previously on, before the inning finally ended.
“We scored six runs on two outs. That’s huge,” Hamre said.”You can win a lot of ball games when you score that many runs with two outs.”
The inning included a three-run home run to deep left field by Megan Johnson, who finished the game with three hits, all for extra bases, and four runs batted in.
EMV later put up three runs in the second inning and four in the fourth. The game ended by mercy rule after five innings.
Offensively, the team also had continued success from Tinjum, who reached base on all four trips to the plate, including one walk and one error. Each time, she used her speed to get around the bases and score.
Hamre said her team is doing well offensively at the right time of year and hopes the trend will continue.
“I’m always confident in our defense, we’ve just got to keep hitting the ball,” she said.
EMV continues the state tournament today against Grafton. The game will start 35 minutes after the conclusion of the Class B semifinal game between Central Cass and Thompson Valley, which will start at 2 p.m.
Grafton beat Hankinson Fairmont 21-9 Thursday.
Hamre said she’s expecting her team to come out aggressive again.
“I’m expecting the same thing,” she said. “I think we’ve got to stay with the same intensity and we’ll be fine.”