By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
In tournament circles, they call it "two and barbecue." Roughly, it means you play your two games, lose them both and you're having post-tourney barbecue shortly thereafter.
It's not exactly what you're looking for at any tournament, particularly the state tournament, especially when you're the home team.
The Havre Northstars will open Friday's Class A State American Legion Baseball tournament at 8 p.m. against the Gallatin Valley Outlaws at Legion Field.
Besides playing in front of friends and family, the Northstars will be out to erase last year's bitter memories of their "two and barbecue" performance at the state tournament in Hamilton.
"Obviously, we don't want that to happen again," said Northstars manager Mickey Williams. "Last year, we picked the absolute worst time to play our two worst games of the season back-to-back."
Indeed, Havre went in as a title contender and was one of the first teams to exit Hamilton.
However, Williams is hoping the four players returning from last year's team - Daine Solomon, Ian Spencer, Cory Junck and Brandon Morse - will use that experience as a motivating factor.
"I know they remember how that felt last season," Williams said. "And I'm pretty sure they don't want to experience that feeling again."
"It's a huge motivating factor," said third baseman/pitcher Ian Spencer. "We don't want to be two and through on our home field. It would be a little embarrassing."
Just to up the ante a little, Havre will be hosting the state tournament for the first time in 34 years.
Although there is that incentive of playing at home and sleeping in your own bed, there also comes an added level of pressure by playing the biggest games of the season in front of the home fans.
"I think for some of our players who are playing in their first state tournament, they'll be nervous," Spencer said. "But you just have to go out there and treat it like another game."
"We're kind of in uncharted territory playing the state tournament here," Williams said. "I know the kids are pretty fired up about playing at home in front of our fans, but you kind of worry in the back of your mind that they will come out a little too nervous or a little too excited."
A little too much of either of those things could prove disastrous because the Northstars aren't opening with some tournament stiff.
Gallatin Valley is one of the premiere teams in the state of Montana. Like the Northstars, they bring a perfect conference record into Havre along with a very talented squad.
The Outlaws finished the season with a 55-16 record and 33-0 in conference play. One of those 55 wins came against the Northstars at Legion Field, but one of the 16 losses also came against the Northstars on the Outlaws' home field.
"We're pretty familiar with each other," Williams said. "We've played twice this season and quite a few times over the last few years. They are always a very sound and fundamental squad."
Disciplined would be another word very applicable when describing the Outlaws. Despite playing several young players, Gallatin Valley doesn't make mistakes to beat itself. The Outlaws play solid, aggressive baseball and capitalize on any mistakes.
In the win over the Northstars in Havre, Gallatin Valley capitalized on two crucial Havre errors to score three runs and score a 6-1 win. Outlaw shortstop Zeb Miller ripped a double and home run, while Kyle Clark was 3-4 with three RBIs. The Northstars bats were also quiet that game as 16-year-old starter Patrick Sinnema held them to just five hits.
Havre got revenge a week later to hand the Outlaws a rare 2-1 loss on their home field. Brandon Morse held the Outlaws to one run on just two hits in the game.
Morse (10-2) will get the nod again on Friday night in hopes of replicating his performance from earlier in the season.
"Brandon has really settled into a groove late in the season," Williams said. "A lot of kids wear down, but he seems to be getting stronger. He had a fantastic district tournament for us and he should continue right on to state."
The key for Morse is to get ahead early in the count. With an overpowering fastball and knee-buckling curve, he can be unhittable when he is ahead in the count.
"Brandon is very tough when he throws strikes," Williams said. "When he gets a hitter behind in the count, they aren't going to know what to expect."
While Morse had a dominating performance at districts, the Northstars as a team didn't exactly break any windows with their hitting. Havre had to gut out three one-run victories en route to the Northern District title. The Northstars weren't flat, but they weren't exactly razor sharp either.
"We didn't play our best baseball at districts," Williams said. "But last year, we crushed the ball at districts and didn't hit at state. So maybe by not hitting well at districts, we are going to hit well at state."
Hitting hasn't been a problem for Havre lately. The Northstars hold a gaudy .351 team batting average and have ripped 169 extra base hits on the season. Daine Solomon (.460), Ian Spencer (.447), Trent Normandy (.426) are all hitting over .400 with Patch Wirtzberger right behind at .397.
"This is a little different than hitting against a 15-year-old kid from one of our conference teams," Williams said. "We are going to face each team's best pitcher every time we step on the field. That means we can't always look for the home run and the big hits. We have to be more selective and play situational baseball."
Havre could face any number of pitchers from Gallatin Valley. The smart money would be either Miller, Toby Marx or Jeremy Knowles. All three pitchers have good fastballs, solid breaking pitches and quality command.
"Every game at the state tournament is important," Williams said. "But the way the bracket sets up, this game is huge."
The state tourney bracket can be like stereo instructions - a little tough to understand. The way it sets up this year, Havre and Gallatin Valley both receive first-round byes and will face each other in the second round."
"It's a good draw because it means you only have to win four games to win the championship," Williams said. "But it's also a tough draw because you have to play Gallatin Valley right away."
Said Spencer: "It's a big first game and we just want to get a win and carry that momentum through the rest of the tournament."
MANAGER: Mickey Williams, COACH: Steve Fanning
RECORD: 49-15 overall; 33-0 in conference
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Northstars won the Northern District tournament in Lethbridge. But even if they hadn't, they still would have qualified because they are the host team.
KEY PLAYERS: Daine Solomon (OF) .460, 20 2Bs; Ian Spencer (IF, P) .447 11 Hrs 68 RBIs; Trent Normandy (SS) .426, 7 3Bs, 59 RBIs; Patch Wirtzberger (C, OF) .397, 77 Runs; Brandon Morse (P) 10-2, 1.29 ERA, 127 Ks; Cory Junck (P) 7-3, 1.20 ERA..
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Northstars rolled through the Northern District like Paris Hilton through a shopping mall. They simply dominated opponents, that is, until last weekend at the district tournament. For some strange reason, the Havre bats went quiet and the runs stopped coming so easily. Havre is still an offensive juggernaut with a team batting average of .351 with 22 home runs, 23 triples and 124 doubles. But some critics could argue that the gaudy numbers came against a somewhat weak Northern District. Regardless, Havre has played several teams in the tournament and fared well, but they must score runs. Solomon has flourished since moving to leadoff and Wirtzberger compliments him well. The key is for Spencer and Normandy to drive them in. Havre's strength is definitely its pitching. Morse is downright overpowering while Junck, Spencer, Chase Castloo and Bret Magelssen round out a solid rotation.
OUTLOOK: Hey, when you're the host team, it's always a little easier sleeping in your own bed. Still, there is some pressure playing at home. Havre must avoid mistakes and pick up the clutch hits. If the Northstars can do that, they will give home fans plenty to cheer about.
BITTERROOT RED SOX
COACH: Jason Goligoski
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Finished second in the Western A District tournament
KEY PLAYERS: Kyle Melton (SS), Ryan Curran (P), Jordan Mousley (OF, C), Brett Henry (P), Joe Franklin (DH, 1B), Patrick McKay (C).
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Red Sox are the defending Class A state champions, but not the defending Western A champs. For the second straight year, Bitterroot failed to win its district tournament title. But winning the district title doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. If you went by the district tournament results, Bitterroot would have never even made the tournament. The Red Sox finished sixth last year, but qualified for state as the host team. And look what happened, they won it all. There is no doubting the Red Sox talent. Franklin, who played at Dawson Community College this past year, was drafted by the Texas Rangers. Arm problems have limited his action in the field, but he's still a dangerous hitter. Melton is probably the slickest shortstop in the tournament. Not much gets by him and he is a dangerous leadoff hitter. Curran and Henry are quality pitchers while Mousley, McKay and Lucky Barrett are all solid players.
OUTLOOK: A year ago people overlooked the Red Sox a little in the tourney - bad idea. Goligoski, who spent several years at the top levels of the minor leagues, will have his team ready. Bitterroot is very familiar and very comfortable at Legion Field. While it isn't the same type of home field advantage as last year, look for Bitterroot to be playing in the tournament's final days.
COACH: Bryan Ayers
RECORD: not available
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Bandits finished second at the Central A District touranament, losing 21-2 to the Gallatin Valley Black Sox.
KEY PLAYERS: Jace Hertzog (P), Clint Marcott (P), Scott Hayes (P),
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Bandits probably don't spend a lot of time in the mirror shaving. Belgrade has a very young team filled with 15- and 16-year-olds as their main contributors. But the young kids have shown that they can play. Hertzong, doesn't look 16, standing 6-7 and closer to seven feet when he is on the pitcher's mound. He will most likely get the start against Bitterroot in the first round game. Hertzog fired a one-hitter in the district tournament and, at 16, has already attracted the interest of pro scouts. Marcott is actually younger at 15. He is a crafty lefthander, who is very tough to hit and mature despite his young age. The wild card could be Hayes. He suffered a broken foot before the district tournament and did not play. There is no word whether he will play or not, but his foot would have to be severely inured to keep him out of the state tournament. The Bandits have plenty of pitching. The key will be hitting. Marcott, Brad Mundt and Eric Dighans are solid hitters alog with Hayes, Hertzong and Casey Kenison. If Dighans and Marcott can continue to score runs, Belgrade may just pull off the upset of the Class A Defending champs.
OUTLOOK: The Bandits didn't get the easiest draw with Bitterroot Red Sox. Facing the defending champion in your first game is a daunting task, especially for a young team, but if you are going to win a title you have to beat them all. So you might as well start with the Red Sox. If Belgrade can get past that first game, the sky is the limit.
GLENDIVE BLUE DEVILS
MANAGER: Bruce Clause COACHERS: Chad Jones, Travis Langan
HOW THEY GOT THERE: They could call the Eastern A District Tournament - The Glendive Invitational - because they have won it so many times. Once again, the Blue Devils won the Eastern A District tourney title
KEY PLAYERS: Greg Ford (P, IF) 9-1 1.78 ERA, Chase Downs (IF/P) .452, Joe Bakken (SS, P, C) .402.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Glendive, the 2002 state champion, seems to have a perennial invitation to the state tournament. Their dominance of Eastern A baseball seems to put them in the tournament every year. Once the Blue Devils make it to state, they are force to be reckoned with. Ford could easily lay claim to being the best pitcher in the tournament. He rolls into the tournament with a 9-1 record and a 1.78 ERA. But Glendive never has a one-man team. Infielder Chase Downs brings a .452 batting average into Havre and is a solid fielder. Downs is also a solid No. 2 pitcher for the Blue Devils. Shortstop Joe Bakken is a versatile player that can hit and run and play multiple positions if need be. The big thing that Glendive brings with them every year is state tournament experience. When you play in state every year, it becomes easier and easier to treat it like just another ball game. Consequently, Glendive doesn't make the type of errors and mistakes that teams, who don't play in state often, commit. Look for Ford to get the start in Glendive's first game against either Bitterroot or Belgrade.
OUTLOOK: The Blue Devils have been here before and won the tournament before. There is nothing that says they can't do it again. Realistically, they will need someone other than Ford, Downs or Bakken to have a great tournament to get them a title.
GALLATIN VALLEY OUTLAWS
MANAGER: Duwayne Scott. COACHES: Jesse Thrush
RECORD: 55-16 overall, 36-0 conference
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Outlaws had little trouble in the Central A District tournament, crushing Belgrade 21-2 in the championship game.
KEY PLAYERS: Zeb Miller (SS, P), Justin Chaffins (3B), Jeremy Knowles (P), Toby Marx (P, OF), Shane Thurston
KEYS TO SUCCESS: After missing out on the Class A State Tournament for the first time in several years, the Outlaws make a triumphant return to state with title aspirations. Gallatin Valley is a very disciplined, talented team under manger Duwayne Scott. They are fundamentally sound and rarely make mistakes in big games. Miller anchors a solid infield at short. He might be the most complete player in the tournament, bringing a combination of defense, hitting and speed to the field. Chaffins is the team's emotional leader and a rock at third, who can hit for a lot of power. Knowles and Marx are both solid pitchers that throw hard and have good breaking pitches Their key will be throwing strikes consistently and letting the Outlaw defense do its work. Scoring runs aren't a problem for Gallatin Valley.
OUTLOOK: The Outlaws have every reason to be confident having defeated state tournament teams - Bitterroot, Havre, Billings, Lethbridge, Belgrade. Gallatin Valley has the hitting, the pitching and the defense to win a state title. However, the Outlaws also have a very tough first game against Havre. The winner of that game will definitely be playing late in the tournament with a trophy on the line.
COACH: Jeff Zanolli
RECORD: not available
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Finished third at Northern District tournament.
KEY PLAYERS: not available
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Not much advance scouting on the Spurs. They are kind of a team that came in as a surprise at the Northern District tournament. They do have two solid pitchers that carried them through districts and into state. However, it's going to take more than two pitchers to do well at state. Still, one thing we do know is that young head coach Jeff Zanolli expects the best from his team. A former Spur himself,
Zanolli was hardnosed player who didn't take plays off and played some good Vauxhall teams. He expects the same from his team. Vauxhall is still a very youthful team that struggled at times in the Northern District. But they were good enough to make it here, so it means they are good enough to win games, particularly their first round game against Laurel.
OUTLOOK: Vauxhall is about a year away from being really good, but young players often don't know any different. The Spurs will play hard and hustle at all times which will automatically keep them in most games. They are capable of winning a couple games at state behind their two big pitchers, but not much more.
BILLINGS BLUE JAYS
COACH: Sean Malley
RECORD: 38-11 overall, 25-6 in conference
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Blue Jays defeated the Laurel Dodgers 12-2 in the Southern A District tournament championship game.
KEY PLAYERS: Josh Link (P), Thomas Ackerman (DH, P), Erik Fladmo (IF). Shawn Gratwohl.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Like so many other feeder teams to Class AA programs, the Blue Jays are a very young squad with mostly 16-year-olds filling its roster. But that doesn't mean the young kids can't play. Billings always produces a wealth of quality baseball players and this year is no different.
The Blue Jays have a relatively good draw and will face Glasgow or Lethbridge in the second round. The Blue Jays match up well with either team and are capable of winning. Link or Ackerman will most likely get the start on the mound. Billings has played good teams throughout the season, including Gallatin Valley and Bitterroot.
OUTLOOK: If the Blue Jays can limit the mistakes and inconsistencies that plague young teams, they have a chance to cause some problems for some teams. Still, it would take a lot for the Blue Jays to make it into the tournament finals
MANAGER: Scott Foss. COACHES: Jay Ward, Kurt Spencer
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Libby captured the very tough Western A District tournament, defeating the defending Class A State champion Bitterroot Red Sox.
KEY PLAYERS: Nate Herbig (P, IF), Jake Swartzendruber (IF,P), Mitch Mohr (1B), Brady Turk ( C), Jon Herbig
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Although Bitterroot sometimes snags all the headlines, it was the Loggers that were making their own through out the season, particularly at the district tournament. Libby has had a fantastic season under Scott Foss, who was a standout baseball player at Jamestown College. The Loggers have beaten several top A and AA teams this season thanks to a balanced attack led by pitcher Nate Herbig. Legion baseball must feel sort of easy for Herbig, who spent the past year pitching for Miles Community College. Herbig was one of the Pioneers best pitchers this season and has come back to absolutley toy with legion hitters. Libby will face the Vauxhall/Laurel winner and the best part is that Herbig probably won't have to pitch that game since Swartzendruber, Mohr or Jon Herbig are all capable of pitching and winning that second round game.
OUTLOOK: You don't win the Western A on a fluke. If Libby can stay in the winner's bracket that means a day off in between games and added rest for their ace Herbig. The more he pitches, the better they will fare. However, the big key will be if Libby's offense continues to put runs on the board. Their combination of hitting and pitching maybe enough to bring home a title.
MANAGER: Chad Layton, COACHES: Don Groves, Travis Magierowski
RECORD: not availabe
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Miners were edged by the Havre Northstars in the Northern District Tournament championship game. Lethbridge finished second in the regular season and tournament to Havre.
KEY PLAYERS: Tyler Aiken (2B, OF), Matt Smith (P, C), Tyler Tamayose (C,P), Jared Hirsche (IF)
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Lethbridge is one of the younger teams in the tournament. But what the Miners lack in experience, they more than make up for in talent. Lethbridge was poised to hand Havre its first conference loss of the season before Mother Nature stepped in with a summer downpour.
The Miners could definitely be tagged as the team you don't want to play early on. They are fundamentally sound year in and year out and make few if any mistakes. The key for them will be consistency. With younger players, consistency is always a problem. Another big thing will be run production. With the exception of Tamayose, the Miners aren't big power hitters. Instead, Lethbridge does the little things to score runs like sacrifice bunts, stealing bases and using the hit-and-run. And they do the them well.
OUTLOOK: Lethbridge has a favorable draw with Glasgow in the first round. The Miners are very capable of winning that first game and causing problems for other teams down the road. Lethbridge can, and will, pull off some upsets, but a tourney title would be very difficult.
COACH: Rob Paul
RECORD: 33-31 overall, 21-12 in conference
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Finished second in Southern A District tourney to Billings
KEY PLAYERS: Bryce Thomas (SS) , Kyle Lonsbery (P) 9-6 .337, Bryan Vanberg (2B, P) 9-5 .343, Dane Yeager (3B,1B), Drake Gradwohl (P, OF) .378)
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Paul is no stranger to Havre having played on Cut Bank's 1998-99 state tournament qualifying team. So he knows what to expect from Legion Field and from the state tournament. The Dodgers have several good players in Thomas, Lonsbery, VanBerg and Gradwohl. They don't rely on one player in particular but rather a host of players. Lonsbery or Vanberg will most likely get the call against Vauxhall in the first round game. It's a game Laurel is more than capable of winning. The Dodgers average close to six runs a game and hit .303 as a team. They will need to carry that offensive production into Havre to have a chance. The other key will be to get good pitching from Lonsbery, Vanberg and Gradwohl. They aren't overpowering in terms of striking people out, but they get the job done. Thomas is a slick shortstop that anchors the Laurel defense.
OUTLOOK: Laurel's record during the season might not be indicative of how good the Dodgers actually can be. They are capable of beating any team in the tournament, especially if they're pitchers are throwing strikies. Scoring runs hasn't seem to have been a problem for Laurel. As long as they can keep things close, they will have a chance.
COACH: Ryan Malmin, Jeremiah Hopstad
RECORD: not available
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Finished second at the Eastern A District tournament to Glendive. KEY PLAYERS: Nathan Hopstad (IF, P), Nate Doornek (P), Tyler Edwards (SS), Randy Elletson (OF, P), Michael Southern (OF, P)
KEY TO SUCCESS: Glasgow has been a state tournament regular since Malmin took over the program The Reds don't have as strong as team as they've had in the past, but that doesn't mean Glasgow isn't good. Glasgow came to the Havre Baseball Jamboree with just nine players and more than held its own, taking Gallatin Valley to extra innings.
The Reds have very versatile and athletic players in Edwards, Elletson, Hopstad and Doornek. They all will have to contribute in the field, at the plate and on the mound for Glasgow to have success. Elletson and Edwards are good base runners and need to get on and make things happen for the Reds. The Reds' pitchers aren't overpowering but are still effective as long they throw strike.
OUTLOOK: Glasgow is a very good team and can make some waves in the tournament. The Reds don't have the depth they've had in the past, but are still capable of winning some games.