Resilient performance results in Heart River softball bronze at regionals
“Time after time, they came back fighting. That was really cool to see. The fact that our kids never gave up," said head coach Kendra Schillo.
BEULAH, N.D. — Over the course of five games at the Region 4 tournament, No. 4 seeded Heart River displayed a level of poise uncommon in teams of such youth and inexperience. The competitive games all season and in the tournament provided a trial-by-fire experience that gained the a third place finish.
The Cougars would ultimately be eliminated by by Velva-Drake/Anamoose.
By Wednesday, a fatigued squad entered play with a final hope for state playoff contention.
“Through this whole tournament we were having moments of resiliency,” Kendra Schillo, Heart River head coach, said. “Time after time again, they came back fighting. It was really cool to see the fact that our kids never gave up.”
The leadership among their three seniors was evident after battling back from a disastrous start to the tourney. In their opening game against the No. 5 seed Washburn/Center-Stanton, the Cougars would lose an upset in an 18-7 romping. The margin of runs in the loss was the largest deficit all season.
Despite the surprising start, Heart River would recover quickly garnering two colossal wins on day two in competition against Hazen and then Central McLean — where they were viewed as underdogs. The Cougars would score double digit runs in both games, ending both by way of the 10-run rule.
Senior Meg Silbernagel's performance on day two was all-regional, knocking a grand slam in each of the two games and collecting 11 RBIs in a performance that was among the best single game performances of the year. Going 3-for-3 against Hazen and 2-for-3 against Central McLean, her offensive output could only be matched by her defensive superiority. Silbernagel retired 12 batters from the circle.
Seniors Briley Boltz and Taylar Fagerberg each had two RBIs and a double on the day.
“We came into this tournament and we were all kind of uncertain what would happen,” Boltz said. “But we all played our part, whether it was on the field or in the dugout cheering.”
The final day of the tourney proved to be tiring for the Cougars after having to go two-extra innings in their 5-4 victory over the No.3 Harvey/Wells County. It was a tightly contested game between two sides that could hit.
The Hornets struck first, having a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Heart River responded with three runs at the top of the fourth; the lead was courtesy of a two-RBI single from Fagerberg.
After being up 4-2 in the bottom frame of the seventh inning, one critical hit from Harvey’s senior Haleigh Lematta would tie the game and keep it from ending.
“I had debated walking her, Lematta. She is such an outstanding athlete,” Schillo said. “When she hit that homer it was so deflating for me as coach. I felt like I made the wrong call.”
The game was finally put to bed after Heart River scored the winning run from sophomore Kaci Davis-Hoagland single. At the end of the game Silbernagel had pitched an impressive 158 throws, striking out 21 batters, and was part of 24 of the 27 outs that they had as a team.
“It was tough, but I had to be mentally strong and pull through because we needed it,” Silbernagel said. “I kept talking positive self-talk and just got through it.”
The Cougars entered the final game, with sore muscles and tired arms.
Standing between them and state was the No.1 Velva/Drake-Anamoose, who lost the championship game 8-1 against No.2 Beulah.
With stamina running low, Heart River immediately found themselves behind the eight ball and were down 4-0 after the first two innings. The deficit doubled after the sixth inning, with the Cougars unable to find success at bat.
At the top of the third Heart River had bases loaded, with two outs and hard hitter sophomore Sage Lecoe up to bat. Unfortunately, Lecoe couldn't get the linedrive she was needing and was forced out.
Heart River remained scrappy until the very end and fought hard for a late rally. In the final inning, at the top of the seventh, Fagerberg doubled on a centered flyball for three RBIs and freshman Aspen Jarrett hit an RBI single to cut the deficit in half.
The final score was 8-4 and despite losing on the edge of a state appearance, not a single head hung low from the Cougars’ dugout. The valiant effort made by the young squad was recognizable to the coaches and to the seniors.
“I had to sit out last year because I had knee surgery so it felt great to come back and reach this far on my comeback season,” Fagerberg said. “Their unwillingness to give up and just the way they have progressed through the season this year, from little motley kids that didn’t know how to play softball, to working their way up to playing at the most elite that we thought we could play at and I am just proud of them for that.”
After the game regional awards were given out and Meg Silbernagel and catcher Abbey Conery were both named part of the All-Region teams. Schillo called both girls warriors and applauded their mental toughness, but noted that it was uniquely special for Conery with three years left of varsity play.
“Second team All-Region, that is some pretty heady company for a freshman,” Schillo said.
“Abbey has come so far this year. At the beginning she was the one I said we were going to need a lot from her and she has just set herself up being a leader on this team going forward. I am excited for her and her future.”
Meg Silbernagel ends her high school career having played varsity softball with two of her sisters, each being six years apart. She was coached her mother, assistant coach Lynette Silbernagel, who said that it was a privileged and joy to coach and see her daughters pass the torch down to one another.
“I am just so proud of every single one of them,” Meg Silbernagel said. “Everyone contributed to this tournament and how well we did. I couldn’t be more proud and this is a tournament that I will remember for a very long time."