WEST FARGO - For the second straight season the Bishop Ryan softball team finished just shy of a Class A state championship.
And for the second straight season the Lions and pitcher Hannah Stewart dropped a grueling 1-0 decision to West Fargo - the 16-time defending champions and still the only team to win the title since the sport gained varsity status in 2009.
West Fargo junior pitcher Brittany Rheault threw 16 strikeouts in a one-hitter and scored the game's only run in front of about 400 fans at Elmwood Park on Saturday.
Bishop Ryan sophomore Hannah Stewart (14) and junior Maddie Lipp (8) walk off the field Saturday at Elmwood Park. The Lions lost 1-0 to West Fargo in the Class A state championship for the second consecutive year.
"They earned the win," first-year Ryan coach Julie Stewart said. "We competed, we fought, we got out of a jam and sometimes it doesn't go the way you want it to go, but I'm so proud of these girls and what they've accomplished and the kind of legacy they've started at Bishop Ryan.
"It's just tremendous. We're this small school and they're doing just an outstanding job."
West Fargo senior Jordyn Johnson hit an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning. Rheault smacked a triple to the centerfield fence in the previous at-bat and junior Michaela Liebl was waved home.
Ryan's relay was in time for junior catcher Maddie Lipp to make the tag on Liebl, leaving West Fargo coach Pat Johnson (no relation) irate. He argued that Lipp blocked the plate before the ball got there, but the call stood.
"How I got a little hot is to get (my players) a little excited too," Pat Johnson said. "It's two-fold. You go in there and question it, but you want to show that, 'Hey, I'm into this thing. I need you guys to be into it,' and they responded very well."
Jordyn Johnson's hit was driven to shallow right field.
"We were playing a little deep and that's not the girls' fault," Julie Stewart said. "That's an adjustment we should have made knowing there was two outs."
Ryan's best opportunity came in the first inning when junior Anika Rovig laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance runners to second and third. Rheault struck out freshman Sheyenne Schmidt to strand the Lions and frustrated Ryan with six straight strikeouts through the next two innings.
"I think in a state championship game, it's a given with all the adrenaline," Rheault said. "The key to this game was hitting my spots."
Julie Stewart said Rheault was the best pitcher Ryan saw all season and the team didn't have an opportunity to face her earlier as a regular-season meeting was canceled due to inclement weather.
The Lions (21-2) chased a lot of Rheault's high fastballs.
"She's got a speed that we haven't seen all year," Hannah Stewart said. "We weren't as disciplined at the plate as we wanted to be. She kept throwing it high on us and we kept striking out on her. She just did what she does best and she got us."