Firebirds keep it rolling: DL takes down 2nd place West Fargo on Senior Night
By Sam Herder
Journal Sports Editor
For the first 11 innings of Devils Lake’s baseball doubleheader Tuesday against West Fargo, the Firebirds were searching for that one hit to get them back into the game.
But for 11 innings in the Eastern Dakota Conference matchup, it just never came. DL (12-11, 10-9 EDC) was right there with second place West Fargo (20-10, 13-5), but often ended innings stranding its runners on base.
But in the fifth inning of Game 2, Noah Widmer knocked in a three-run double to tie the game at 5-5. In the bottom of the seventh with the same score and the bases loaded, senior Bryce Sebelius put the ball in play and sent home fellow senior Landyn Swenson for the 6-5 win.
It was quite the finish on Senior Night after West Fargo took the first game 8-1.
“Anytime you beat a very solid team like West Fargo on Senior Night, that’s our last home game, that’s a huge deal,” Firebirds head coach Justin Bear said.
The Firebirds offense had little answer for pitcher Hunter Ulmer after taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning. West Fargo scored a run in the first, fourth and fifth innings until tacking on five runs in the seventh.
Ulmer, meanwhile, fanned 12 DL batters in Game 1.
“First game we were right there,” Bear said. “Both Cody Wren and Joey Hornstein gave us a chance. It was just the one inning they were able to take advantage and they punched some runs across and we were never able to respond. We had runners in scoring position a few times and we weren’t able to get them in.”
DL’s hitting improved in the nightcap, but still couldn’t find the one extra hit in the first four innings as the Packers took a 4-1 lead.
After West Fargo added another run in the fifth, the Firebirds began their comeback effort.
Three quick singles by Hornstein, Jake Mertens and Ty Ness loaded the bases. Swenson reach on a fielder’s choice and scored Hornstein.
Two at-bats later, the bases were loaded again with two outs. West Fargo made a pitching change, and on the first pitch, Widmer laced a three-run double to tie the game at 5-5.
“This year what we’ve been talking about is those clutch hits,” Bear said. “If somebody doesn’t get it, hopefully that next guy will. That’s what happened in the second game. One guy missed his opportunity, the second or third guy picked him up. That’s what you have to do as a team.”
Swenson came to the mound with one out in the sixth and quickly retired the next two batters.
In the top of the seventh, Swenson faced a little more pressure.
Still tied, the Packers had a runner on third with two outs. Swenson stayed in control and forced the West Fargo batter into a ground out to end the inning.
“My dad has always told me to be confident out there,” Swenson said. “I thought of him on the mound, and it’s his birthday today, too. I thought of him on the mound and came through.”
The Firebirds, still not a lock to make the East Region Tournament, needed a win to boost their chances.
They delivered in the bottom of the seventh.
With the bases loaded and one out, Sebelius got a piece of the ball and it rolled softly between the pitcher and the catcher.
Even Sebelius, who didn’t play baseball his junior year but returned for his senior season, thought the play was doomed.
“I was thinking ‘ah crap, I messed this up,’” Sebelius said.
But Swenson, on third and one of the fastest players on the team, had a good jump to home plate on the crack of the bat.
The pitcher bobbled the ball before making the throw home, but Swenson was already sliding across to score the game-winning run as DL’s dugout cleared in celebration.
“I saw it off the bat and it was a little dribbler to the pitcher,” Swenson said. “I knew I had to go hard and try and get there as hard as I could. It just happened to work out.”
The Firebirds have won seven of their last nine games, moving them into fifth place. But five other teams in the EDC have nine or 10 wins. The race to see who secures the eight spots in the East Region Tournament is still up for grabs.
DL plays its final doubleheader Friday at Grand Forks Central, beginning at 5 p.m. The Knights are currently in eighth place with a 9-10 conference record.
“It pulls up our confidence pretty high,” Sebelius said on Tuesday’s win. “I think it will help us move further in the EDC and hopefully we can make the tournament.”