By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
With threatening clouds, intermittent downpours, rolling thunder and lightning flashes, hitting Havre early on Tuesday, the sky cleared up just long enough for the Havre Northstars to deliver a thunderstorm of their own to the Fort MacLeod Royals.
The Northstars struck for 24 runs on 29 hits to sweep a doubleheader over the Royals Tuesday night at Legion Field. The two wins improved Havre's conference record to 18-4 and put them in first place in the Northern District. The Lethbridge Miners, who had been in first place, fell to second as they split with the Great Falls Stallions A squad dropping their record to 17-3.
"That's as focused as we have been all season," said head coach Mickey Williams. "We were intense from the start which is tough with rain delays and working on the field. But the kids came out intense right away and stayed intense in both games."
Tuesday's rain showers forced the start time to be pushed back from 5 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. as Williams and his players worked to get the field dry and playable. Often times, delays can be a burden as the players are just happy to be playing after working to get the field ready. Not the Northstars - from the very start it was apparent that they wouldn't be satisfied with just playing, they were out for wins.
Fort MacLeod picked up its only lead of the doubleheader in the second inning of the opening game when they took a 1-0 lead as Ben Paskal scored on Quade Armstrong's single.
However, the Northstars quickly erased the lead in the bottom half of the second as a perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunt by Mark Benjamin scored Tyson Roe to put the Northstars on the board. Benjamin later scored on Chazz Hurlburt's long double to the left-center gap to give the Northstars a 2-1 lead.
An inning later, Havre added three more runs on an RBI single from Ian Spencer and a two-run single from Hurlburt to go up 5-1. Three more runs in the fourth thanks to bases-loaded hit by pitch to Tyson Roe and a two-run single from Benjamin pushed the lead to 8-1.
MacLeod finally answered with a run in the fifth, and Havre missed two good opportunities to end the game early as they stranded runners in scoring position in both the fifth and sixth innings.
Havre did manage to get a another run to go up 9-2. MacLeod tried desperately to rally off of Northstar pitcher Tyler Thompson in the their final at-bat. A pair of RBI doubles from Nick Tillsley and Paskal took a chunk out of the lead. But Thompson fought back and struck out Dale Scobie to end the game.
Thompson was sharp for most of the game and did an excellent job of keeping the Royal hitters off balance with steady diet of off-speed pitches.
"The only time Tyler got really hit hard was when he left the ball up in the strike zone, and that didn't happen often," Williams said. "He also did a nice job of working out of some trouble. He showed a lot of poise."
Indeed, the Royals had bases loaded with one out in the second inning and Thompson worked his way out surrendering just one run. Thompson scattered out eight hits and allowed four runs while striking out five to pick up his eighth win of the season. It was also the ninth time, Thompson pitched a complete game.
Benjamin led the Northstars finishing 3-3 with four RBIs while Hurlburt drove in three runs on a pair of hits. Spencer and Roe drove in the other Northstar runs and combined to score three runs as well.
The Northstars carried over the intensity from the first game into the nightcap as they ended the game as quickly as it began. The Northstars banged out seven hits and scored nine runs in the bottom of the first inning to take control early.
Daine Solomon, Roe, Spencer and Cory Junck each had RBI singles as the Northstars batted around in the inning. But it was the second time through the lineup that really opened the game up. Steve Heberly lashed a bases-loaded double to the gap for his second hit of the inning and Solomon drove in two more with his second hit of the inning.
Fort MacLeod was clearly dazed by the Northstars' opening barrage and Havre starter Brandon Morse certainly wasn't about to let them out of it.
Morse stayed ahead of batters for the most part and used a blazing fastball to strike out four Royal batters in the first two innings. The Royals did pick up a pair of runs capitalizing on two errors from Dusty Heath and a double from Tillsley to cut the lead to 9-2.
However, Heath got a little revenge as he and Solomon drove in runs in the third inning to get the two runs back.
Havre scored four more runs in the fourth inning as Heberly drove in two more runs with his second double of the game and Adam Jensen drove in another with a double to right.
Morse continued his stingy ways on the mound, shutting out the Royals the remainder of the game and ending in five innings via the 10-run mercy rule.
"Brandon was solid," Williams said. "I thought he might have come out and started overthrowing because it was a big game, but he worked ahead and threw strikes."
Morse, who improved his record to 7-5 on the season, finished with no earned runs and surrendered just three hits while striking out six.
Havre was led offensively by Heberly, who finished 3-5 with five RBIs. Solomon also had three hits - a single, double and triple - and four RBIs.
"We hit the ball better than we have all season," Williams said. "And we hit it well against pretty good pitching."
The Northstar pitching wasn't bad either.
"Brandon and Tyler both did an excellent job," Williams said. "Fort MacLeod is a very good hitting team that scores a lot of runs, and our pitchers held them to six runs in two games. We can't ask for much more than that."
Havre will now travel to Missoula for the Mavericks A squad tournament, but Williams and his team has next Tuesday already in the back of their mind as they will host second-place Lethbridge in a big doubleheader.
"Those will be big games," Williams said. "But we still have to focus on this weekend and winning games first."
Fort MacLeod Royals 010 010 2 - 4 8 2
Havre Northstars 023 301 X - 9 15 3
Kenly and Tillsley; Tyler Thompson and Daine Solomon, Adam Jensen. WP - Thompson, LP - Kenly.
ROYALS - Schwindt 1-4, Wilson 2-4, Tillsley 1-2 (RBI), Paskal 1-3 (RBI), Scobie 1-4, Payne 0-2, Kenly 0-3, Armstrong 1-3 (RBI), Morkin 1-3.
NORTHSTARS - Steve Heberly 2-3, Adam Jensen 1-2, Daine Solomon 1-3, Dusty Heath 1-3, Tyson Roe 1-3 (RBI), Ian Spencer 2-3 (RBI), Mark Benjamin 3-3 (4 RBI), Cory Junck 1-3, Chazz Hurlburt 2-4 (3 RBI).
2B - Tillsley, Hurlburt
3B - Paskal
HR - none
Fort MacLeod Royals 002 00 - 2 3 2
Havre Northstars 902 4X- 15 14 2
Scobie, Armstrong (4) and Tillsley; Brandon Morse and Adam Jensen. WP - Morse, LP - Scobie.
ROYALS - Schwindt 1-3, Wilson 0-1, Egger 0-2, Tillsley 1-1 (RBI), Paskal 0-3, Scobie 0-3, Payne 1-2, Kenly 0-2, Armstrong 0-2, Morkin 0-2.
NORTHSTARS - Steve Heberly 3-4 (5 RBI), Adam Jensen 2-3, Daine Solomon 3-4 (4 RBI), Dusty Heath 1-3 (RBI), Tyson Roe 0-3 (RBI), Ian Spencer 3-3 (RBI), Tyler Thompson 1-3, Cory Junck 1-2 (RBI), Levi Briese 0-1.
2B - Schwindt, Tillsley, Payne, Heberly 2, Jensen, Solomon, Spencer
3B - Solomon
HR - none