A finale worth pitching: North Star shuts out undefeated Rugby, 4-0, to deliver statement

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

CANDO – A calm, cool and not-too-breezy Monday afternoon set the tone at North Star High School on May 16. 

Of course, the excitement in the air didn’t solely come from eager kids ready to begin their summer vacation. 

It also came from the hometown baseball team.  

A primetime baseball bout between two tournament contenders set the stage on the all-dirt infield in Cando. The Rugby Panthers (8-0, 4-0) and North Star Bearcats (4-0, 4-0) established all the context any interested baseball fan needed to know going into the game. Each team wanted to finish the regular season with a bang. With each team playing their last regular-season contest before region – and potentially state – tournament action officially got underway, it only made sense to finish as strong as possible. 

The North Star Bearcats (5-0, 5-0) netted a marquee win with their 4-0 shutout win against the Rugby Panthers (8-1, 4-1) in Cando on May 16.

While they might have been a tough nut to crack, the Bearcats eventually found enough pressure to pop the undefeated Rugby bubble with a statement 4-0 shutout victory. 

With the 89-pitch complete game shutout victory in hand, the sophomore in Dane Hagler was sure to credit his team behind him for providing the necessary defensive cushion and run support to net the win. Hagler is now 2-0 on the season (the Bearcats beat Bottineau, 12-3, on May 10). 

“Momentum helps a lot when I’m on the mound,” Hagler said after the game. “Get more speed on my fastball with more momentum [and] get some blood flowing, so I have a great defense behind me. I know if the ball is in play, my team is going to make the play.” 

Headlined by starting pitcher Jacob Ripplinger on the mound, the Panthers attempted to pounce on the Bearcats early via aggressive swings and just enough juice on the fastball. However, the Panthers only mustered two total hits during the first two innings. Hagler retired the final 16 batters faced, dating back to the second inning. Hagler struck out 13 total batters in the contest and tallied seven groundouts. The shutout loss was Rugby’s first of the season. 

Dane Hagler delivers a pitch against Rugby on May 16. Hagler finished the game with a complete game shutout and 13 total strikeouts.

“Our defense is tough all the way around, especially when Dane [Hagler] is on the mound throwing,” North Star head coach Jesse Vote said after the game. “You put him on the mound, [and] he is going to give up not much more than one or two runs a game. We just have to make sure we do our job at the plate.” 

And do their job the Bearcats did. After North Star stranded four total runners through the first three innings of action, the Bearcats, via a selective yet aggressive fastball-hitting approach, eventually broke through in the fifth inning after Hunter Hagler slapped a single to right field to score Dane. The Bearcats scored three additional runs in the sixth inning via two singles, one double and one walk. 

The turning point came down to maintaining a bat-to-ball fastball-looking approach. 

“Sometimes, it just turns into a waiting game,” Vote said. “As you get deeper into the game, it turns into more of a little bit more selection early on. You can jump on those fastballs right away, and who knows what happens. Our approach at the plate was great, especially down the stretch. We put some good swings together.” 

Although Mother Nature held the team to only five total games during the regular season, the Bearcats remain eager to stay sharp and continue their work toward taking care of business during the upcoming regional tournament. 

“We are going to have a lot more fans here, especially [in] hosting the tournament, and we love our field,” Hagler said. “All dirt infield, [and] we are used to it. Every other place has a grass infield, so we are used to it here.” 

“It just seems like we’re just getting started,” Vote said. “We’ve only had four or five games now, and things are going to happen quick, and they are going to be over quick. Baseball in North Dakota keeps going through June and July, but you have a state tournament in a couple [of] weeks. That’s our ultimate goal to get there, but we have to take it one game at a time, and obviously, we don’t know who we are going to end up playing, but the focus is strictly on us, and that’s how it’s going to be.” 

Game breakdown: 

RGB: 0 0 0 0 0 0 0: 0 2 0 

NSB: 0 0 0 0 1 3 x: 4 11 0 

Standout stats: 

- Rugby: 

    Pitching: 

    - Jacob Ripplinger: L, 5.2 IP, 4 R, 4 ER, 11 H, 1 BB, 5 K, 71 P 

- North Star: 

    Pitching: 

    - Dane Hagler: W, CGSO, 7.0 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 0 BB, 13 K, 89 P

    Hitting: 

    - Parker Simon: 3-3 (1 2B), 1 R 

    - Zachary Jorde: 2-4 (2 2B), 1 RBI 

    - Dane Hagler: 1-2 (1 2B), 1 R 

    - Garrett Westlind: 2-3, 1 R 

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.