By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Regardless of what anyone may think, the Havre Northstars have plenty of reasons to win the Northern District tournament.
The Northstars will open first-round play against the Tri-County Cardinals today at noon in Lethbridge with more than a little incentive, despite being assured a berth in the Class A State tournament they'll host next weekend.
First, there is the matter of tradition. The Northstars are the defending district tournament champions, having won the tournament the last two years and four of the last five. They certaintly don't want to see anyone walking off the field with their trophy.
Second, there is a little matter of seeding at the state tournament. Even though Havre is assured a berth, by winning the district title, the Northstars would face a No. 3 team from a different district as opposed to facing another district champion.
Third, another team took a few verbal jabs at the Northstars. After finishing the conference season undefeated, every team is out to knock off the Northstars and hand them that first conference loss, including the Great Falls Stallions.
On Wednesday night, a Great Falls television station interviewed a few Stallion players, who predicted they would knock off Havre. A few Northstar players were watching the telecast and were none too pleased.
"I really haven't said much to them about the tournament," head coach Mickey Williams said. "They know what's at stake this weekend and what it means to be the champs. If they didn't have enough motivation, the Stallions going on TV saying they are going to beat us certainly added to it."
Obviously, there is no love lost between the Stallions and the Northstars. However, Havre must first focus on Tri-County, which comes into the tournament as the eight seed.
Havre crushed the Cardinals in all four games this season, but Williams isn't about to predict a victory.
"Baseball is a strange game," Williams said. "We still have to come into the game focused and ready to play. I don't care who we are playing."
Williams hasn't decided on a starting pitcher for the game. Most likely, he will go with Bret Magelssen and save Chase Castloo, Cory Junck, Ian Spencer and Brandon Morse for later in the tourney.
Magelssen was the Northstars leader in wins and innings pitched. He finished the season with a 10-2 record and a 1.87 earned run average. Magelssen isn't a power pitcher; he's a control pitcher who induces teams into a plethora of ground ball outs.
"Bret has had success against Tri-County, so he is definitely a candidate to start," Williams said.
No matter who starts on the mound, they should have plenty of run support. The Northstars have been an offensive juggernaut this season, particularly versus conference foes.
Havre is batting a ridiculous .356 as a team on the season and an even more robust .426 in the conference.
"We certainly are capable of putting up some runs," Williams said. "We need to continue to get runners in scoring position and driving them in."
Havre is led offensively by the foursome of Daine Solomon, Ian Spencer, Trent Normandy and Patch Wirtzberger, who are all batting over .400 on the season.
Solomon leads the team in hitting at .468 and has been really hot as of late, finishing last weekend's games 13-16 with three triples and three doubles.
Spencer is second on the team in hitting at .465 and leads the team in home runs with 10 and RBIs with 64.
Normandy has been one of Havre's best clutch hitters on the season. He has come up with crucial hits at crucial times and is second on the team in RBIs with 57.
Wirtzberger leads the team in runs scored with 75 and has a team high 72 hits on the season.
Perhaps Williams' biggest concern will be playing nine innings instead of seven.
"People don't always understand what a big adjustment that can be," Williams said. "It's tough for kids that age to stay focused for that long. It is definitely an adjustment for our pitchers as well."
Other first-round games include the Stallions taking on the rival Great Falls Sparkies, Fort MacLeod facing Vauxhall and Lethbridge taking on Medicine Hat.
"Lethbridge and the Stallions would have to be considered the other favorites to advance to state," Williams said. "But the Sparkies are capable of knocking them off, and the first game isn't easy on Lethbridge. There are no easy games in the tournament."