One giant leap: Dickinson clinches first-ever state championship
Dickinson beat Bismarck High School to clinch their first-ever state title in program history on Saturday.
The Midgets topped the Demons 10-0, paced by a standout second inning.
As scenes of joy filled the diamond following the North Dakota High School Activities Association state championship, the Midgets would stand atop the mountain courtesy of a high powered offense that would see Dickinson secure the game in a 10-point rule victory after five innings.
The sole remaining team in the state rushed the field as they celebrated their long awaited moment, a first in school history.
Championships take years of hard work and dedication, and Dickinson had never been able to secure the elusive accolade — coming in as runner-up three times, each time under the mentorship and coaching of head coach Amanda Mickey.
Mickey’s first year would be the first time the Midgets would appear in the state championship.
Dickinson would garner their record setting initial state championship against a strong team as Bismarck High School would be equal to the task in their own attempt at the crown. The Demons beat Century’s Patriots in the semifinal 5-3, which spoke of their abilities as not only defeating the WDA champions, but a team capable of ending matches quickly.
Mickey spoke to The Press on what the historic moments meant to her and her team as they finally cleared the state hurdle.
“It feels way better than losing, I tell you that,” Mickey said. “It feels awesome; I am so proud of my kids, I am so happy for them. Some of them have been in this moment and we failed, but they got right back up and got better and we made our way back here again, and man did we perform today.”
The Midgets were led on their defensive side by standout Mataya Mortensen, who would be called on to pitch in what will be regarded as the most important game in Midgets softball history.
Despite a season nagging injury, sustained during the hockey season, all eyes were on Mortensen as she took to the circle to pitch in the championship.
For Mortensen, letting her team down was simply not an option and she would shut down the Demons, allowing only a pair of hits while collecting five strikeouts over five innings.
“Mataya in the circle did an amazing job and our bats had her back,” Mickey said. “I was planning on her being done because she hasn't pitched in over a week, and she pitched a lot yesterday. She had also thrown an overhand throw to first base which tremendously hurt her arm. I think the adrenaline got to her and she was like, ‘I got to do this for my team, I got one more game in me before the surgery.’ And she absolutely shut them down with only two hits.”
Bismarck pitchers’ Logan Gronberg and Macie Lemar did their very best to contain Dickinson's offense, but each would give up six hits in a game that quickly ran away from them.
While pitching and defense play secured the victory, the Midgets’ bats would turn the title game into a non-competitive affair early as in the bottom of the second Kali Kubas would be the first of many to cross home plate — courtesy of an Ava Jahner bunt.
With 1-0 lead and a single out, two stolen bases would show that the best team in Dickinson history was only warming up.
Jenna Decker would bring home Amy Fridley, as Mortensen’s line drive to right field would extend the runs further.
In the third, the Demons would attempt a rally with two quick putouts, before Baylee Berg would again push the lead for the Midgets as an absolute dinger of a homer would have Bismarck defense crumbling under the mounting onslaught.
“We just produced at the plate. We pushed well and we struggled together and it felt so good to come out right away competing. That is something that we struggled with in the years past in the state tournament game,” Mickey said. “It's hard to defend a bunt defense and that's kind of where our turning point was because it wasn't working out for us in the big game with Century. We were trying to get the long ball and take care of the small ball and it obviously worked out really well for us.”
With one out at the top of the fifth, the Midgets’ Makenna Eckleberg would end the frame with an incredible double play taking out Caitlyn Dannenfelzer on a line drive and catching Cameron Schmidt while she tried to reclaim first.
“My goal this year was to do good in the defense area so I think having those double plays really helped out and made me think I accomplished what I wanted to this year,” Eckleberg said. “I think as a team we worked really hard together and we had great hits all together and our team chemistry was really all there.”
With Reese Hauck on third, after being hit by a pitch, Kubas would slam a double to give Dickinson two runners with one out. Fridley would step inside the batter's box in a clean up position before hitting a line drive to left field and bringing both runners home.
At 6-0, the Demons and their fans sat silently as a roaring Midgets side would prove too much.
A Jahner triple would bring Fridley home and extend the lead to 7-0, before Decker’s ground ball would nab Jahner an easy run.
The scoreboard read 8-0 and the fans would begin to cheer the inevitable.
Next up, Mortensen would bring in Decker on a line drive to extend to 9-0, before senior Paige Balliet took her place to bat. A line drive down the middle, missed by both the pitcher and shortstop would send Mortensen home.
With the 10-0 lead, the umpires would call it, game over — all the hard work, pain, sweat and tears finally brought the highest achievement to the Dickinson team.
As the Midgets rushed the circle, tears of joy would signal the crowning achievement of most player’s careers. Shortly after the award ceremony, family members and supporters filled the infield as Dickinson would host their first state title amidst cheers and tears.
Taya Hopfauf’s dad, Jason Hopfauf found himself proud and reflective on the long journey of his daughter to this pinnacle moment.
“It's an awesome feeling just to be in this situation where I have been coaching her since she was seven years old and it is neat to see all the work you have put in to get where she is at today. It is great for the team,” Jason Hopfauf said. “It shows that hard work pays off. Just put in the time and good things will happen.”
Mickey was awarded the 2021 NDHSAA Coach of the Year and though she has fought time and time again at this level said that for her, it was never a doubt.
“We took advantage of the pressure; We welcomed it and we embraced it and that was the difference between the other years… I’m telling you, I have so much trust in them and confidence. I never played in a state championship where I was just super cool without nerves because I was so excited to watch them compete,” Mickey said “I love the assistant coaches, we have such a good relationship between all four of us. Scott Lafond does a great job of calling pitches. He is the one that does a good job of sitting down talking to the kids and talking things out. Dani is my antsy one, she is really good at working them out, getting them fired up. Coach Potter does a good job working with the pitchers, she was a pitcher in college and she played for Dickinson high school as a pitcher as well. They make my job easy.”
For some of these girls the title will be the last time they will wear a uniform, for others like freshman Jahner, this is only the beginning.
“My expectation for the future is definitely bringing in three more state championships because we are not going to let up, we are going to keep working together and get better,” Jahner said. “This is our first state championship in softball so it feels really good to put that 2021 up on the board in the gym. It's going to feel great coming back with the win.”