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On the prowl: Cougars depth propels Heart River to strong season start

"At one time the goal was a region tournament appearance, but now our girls are setting their goals a little bit higher because they competed at that level and had a taste of it and want to get back there," said head coach Kendra Schillo.

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Heart River Cougars have their eyes set on a state appearance for the first time since 2019.
Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press
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SOUTH HEART, N.D. — Heart River's softball team currently sits atop the Class B, Region 4, standings with a perfect 3-0 record after defeating high-powered Velva-Drake/Anamoose in a tightly contested extra inning 2-1 victory last Saturday.

The Cougars' pack of young and hungry players are being led by a trio of experienced seniors who are not only mentoring their team, but setting their eyes on a state appearance for the first time since 2019.

“We started off the season really well,” Head coach Kendra Schillo said. “We didn't know what to expect with our young players, but the game against Vela was a good barometer. Vela is one of the better teams in the state, let alone the western half. The fact that we stuck with them and eked out a win is a good sign for our club.”

As young as the program in Heart River is, having their first season in 2015, they are no strangers to the big stage. A state playoff appearance in three consecutive years beginning in 2017 had all signs pointing to a fourth year breakout season — then the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season.

“It was going to be our year. We had really talented girls who were seniors. We had Abby Kessel, one of the best pitchers in the state. Then Covid hit,” Schillo said. “Our girls were used to doing well. At one time the goal was a region tournament appearance, but now our girls are setting their goals a little bit higher because they competed at that level and had a taste of it and want to get back there.”

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The three remaining seniors, experienced in state competition, and their pitcher Meg Silbernagel, have been part of the varsity team since seventh grade. Schillo said that the understanding of the level of commitment needed to achieve their goal of competing at state will take them a long way.

“Our three seniors are really the ones who have experienced that level of success,” Schillo said. "The younger ones have just heard about it and want the chance to experience for themselves.”

Of the seniors, none have recorded a single error on the field this season. Shortstop Briley Boltz has five putouts and two groundouts, while Taylar Fagerberg leads her fellow seniors with 10 putouts and three runs. Silbernagel has tallied 41 strikeouts to leave 18 runners stranded.

With Wilton/Wing going down in an 8-2 performance, and now Vela-Drake/Anamoose, their biggest test will comes against Beulah, who Schillo believes is the team to beat.

A game between the two sides was slated to be played on Tuesday, before being postponed by the record breaking severe snow storms that buried central and western part of the state.

Though the season still has plenty of life left in it, the Cougars' fast start is expected to resume following the short hiatus to the season. When the season will resume is up in the air.

“That is the million dollar question. People wanted to know when we could reschedule and things like that, but in the meantime we are going to get really good at practicing inside. Hopefully we'll do a little bit of cardio by shoveling off the field in a few weeks,” Schillo said. “The nice thing is that everybody is in the same boat, so we’ll just play it by ear and control the things we can control.”

Josiah C. Cuellar was born in San Angelo, Texas, a small rural community in the western part of the state known for its farming, ranching and beautiful Concho River. A Texas A&M San Antonio graduate specializing in multi-media reporting, Cuellar is an award winning photographer and reporter whose work focuses on community news and sports.
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