JAMESTOWN - They belonged. There were no doubts about that.
After being no-hit in its first-ever appearance in the North Dakota Class B State Softball Tournament, the Heart River Cougars bounced back with two straight wins to claim fifth place, the season's final victory being a 2-1 decision in nine innings against Wilton-Wing on Saturday at Lyle Lawrence Field.
The Cougars, who finished with an overall record of 12-7, were held without a hit against eventual champion Kindred-Richland last Thursday, but head coach Kendra Schillo saw her players dust themselves off and come back ready to win.
"I think we went in wondering if we truly belonged at that level. We're so young and still so new," she said. "We didn't know what was going to happen or if we could compete at that level. But that's what we learned. We belonged there. We can compete at that level, and if anything, we came away more excited for next year and what we can accomplish."
Heart River's turnaround started Friday with a 13-5 victory against Hillsboro-Central Valley.
"When Kaylee Binstock scored that first run against Hillsboro, you could almost feel everybody exhale and say, 'OK, we can do this,'" Schillo said.
Binstock scored three times and drove in three more in that game. Caylee Wilke tallied three hits, scored twice and drove in one, and McKenzie Buckman hit for a double and drove in two runs.
The following day, Wilton-Wing jumped to a 1-0 lead after the first inning, but Heart River tied it 1-1 in the second. It stayed that way until Wilke's single up the middle scored Meg Silbernagel in the top of the ninth.
Through all three games, Schillo said freshman pitcher Abby Kessel was a steadying presence for the Cougars.
"I told her at the beginning of the season that we were going to go as far as her right arm was going to take us," Schillo said. "You talk about pressure. She's a freshman - when we started (the softball program), she was 12 - and she's just gotten better and better. She takes that load. We don't really have a backup pitcher. It's her."
Kessel finished the fifth place game with 10 strikeouts against just two walks.
"We were all pretty nervous the first day because it was the top seed in the state," Kessel said."We were happy to be there, but we got more confidence once we got out the nerves."
For her efforts, and for her excellence all season long, Kessel was named to the North Dakota Class B Softball All-State Team.
"That's a really big (honor) that the other coaches think I'm good enough to be on the all-state team," Kessel said. "I was really excited about that. ... I want to get better any way I can."
Schillo also praised the contributions of senior second baseman Rylann Olson and senior first baseman Margie Silbernagel to the program's best season.
"They've led by example for the last three years. It doesn't matter if they hit or strike out, they come off the field and they're cheering, and they really embraced the philosophy that if our team does well, we do well," Schillo said. "They had to sacrifice some of their statistics for the good of the team. Margie, probably her best position is catcher, but we had a good catcher and we needed a first baseman, so she went and played first base and made it to the all-region team. To have those girls step up was invaluable for us."
Heart River 2, Wilton-Wing 1
HR 010 000 001 - 2 9 0
WW 100 000 000 - 1 9 2
HR: Abby Kessel (9.0) and Mattea Binstock. WW: McKenna Weisenburger (9.0) and Lauren Koski.
W-Kessel. L-Weisenburger. HR-None.
Highlights: HR, Caylee Wilke 2-5, 1 RBI; Margie Silbernagel 3-5; Jersey Filkowski 1-3; Meg Silbernagel 1-2, 1 R; Rylann Olson 1-4; Abby Kessel 1-4, 9 IP, 1 R (1 ER), 2 BB, 10 K. WW, Erin Thompson 2-3; Sarah Selle 2-4; Tya Schiele 1-4; Hayle Boechler 1-4; Jade Koski 1-3, 1 RBI; Madison Leidy 1-4; McKenna Weisenburger 1-5, 1 R, 9 IP, 2 R (1 ER), 3 BB, 7 K.
Senior Athlete of the Year: Madison Foss, Central Cass
Coach of the Year: Trevor Yetterboe, Wilton-Wing
2017 North Dakota Class B Softball All-State Team: Abby Kessel, Heart River; Allison Bartholomay, Enderlin-MV; Erica Hermanson, DLB-LC; Erica Moen, DLB-LC; Hannah Buzick, Hillsboro-CV; Kamryn Grimes, Watford City; Karlee Arnold, Wilton-Wing; Madison Foss, Central Cass; Madison Sweep, Central Cass; Mayce Brodehl; Westhope-N-B; McKenna Weisenburger, Wilton-Wing; Mikayla Reinke; Kindred-Richland; Mikka Haugeberg, Watford City; Molly Bohn, Northern Cass; Payton Richter, Central Cass; Theresa Klinnert, Kindred-Richland.