By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
With the possibility of its season ending Monday, the "real" Havre Northstar team showed up to the Class A State American Legion Baseball tournament at Legion Field.
After a lackluster loss to Libby in the semifinals, Havre Northstar manager Mickey Williams was left wondering what happened to the team that went undefeated in the month of July and undefeated in the Northern District.
Well, that team appeared and made its presence felt in Monday's 15-3 win over Belgrade in loser-out action.
With the win, Havre will meet the defending Class A champion Bitterroot Red Sox today at 12:30 p.m. in loser-out action. The winner of that game will face the loser of the Glendive-Libby semifinal tonight at 7:30.
"That's the team I've been waiting for to show up," Williams said after the game. "That's the real Havre Northstars. We played with intensity and focus right from the start. The big thing was that we got contributions from everyone in our lineup in some way and we didn't have that in the first two games."
Indeed, Havre's biggest offensive lift came from its unlikeliest hitter. Leftfielder Jeff Tibbals was mired in an offensive funk in the tournament's first two games, striking out five times and going hitless. But Monday night, Tibbals broke out in a big way, ripping a pair of two-run singles in clutch situations to help Havre pull away from a pesky Belgrade squad.
With Havre up 3-2 in the top of the fifth, Tibbals lashed a line-drive to the right-center gap with bases loaded, scoring a pair of runs to give Havre a 5-2 cushion. He added another single to center in the eighth, scoring two more runs as the Northstars exploded for nine runs in their big inning.
"It was good to see Jeff get a couple of big hits," Williams said. "We talked about having everybody showing up and contributing and he did that tonight."
The offense wasn't just limited to Tibbals. Havre racked up 21 hits in the game and struck out just twice in the game. But the key to the win, according to Williams was his team's ability to get the lead-off batter on in almost every inning.
In eight out of nine innings, Havre got its lead-off batter on safely. Consequently, Havre scored in seven of those eight innings.
"That is so crucial," Williams said. "It gives you so many different options and puts a lot of pressure on your opponent's defense. We try and play for one run every inning and getting the lead-off batter makes that much easier."
Havre's one run an inning strategy was working early on, as the Northstars got on the board in their first at-bat of the game. Trent Normandy laced a double to right, scoring Patch Wirtzberger. The Northstars added another run in the second to go up 2-0.
Belgrade tied the game at two in the bottom of the second as a walk from Northstar starter Chase Castloo and a passed ball on a third strike came back to haunt Havre.
The Northstars retook the lead in the fourth as Cory Junck led off with a single and later scored on a Daine Solomon single to left.
After the shaky second inning, Castloo settled into a rhythm and retired eight straight Bandit hitters at one point.
"I don't think Chase was as warm as he should have been in the first few innings," Williams said. "He wasn't as sharp control-wise in the first two innings, but he got going in the middle innings."
Castloo's only other mistake came in the sixth inning. For much of the game, a gusty east wind knocked fly balls down in the Legion Field outfield. However, Havre being Havre, the wind switched directions 180 degrees and started gusting from the west.
Belgrade's Jace Hertzog took full advantage, belting a belt-high fastball out of the park for a solo home run.
Castloo allowed another single following the home run, but bore down and got out of the inning, retiring the next three hitters in a row with the help of a diving catch by first baseman Ben Erickson in front of the Belgrade dugout.
"Chase was able to work out of some spots," Williams said. "Ben came up with a great catch in a big situation. Those are the type of defensive plays you need to win games at the state tournament."
With Castloo's pitch count in triple digits, Williams went to Brandon Morse to shut the door. Morse came into the game in the eighth inning and held the Bandits scoreless despite giving up a triple to Eric Dighans.
Up 5-2, Havre gave itself more than enough cushion in the bottom of the eighth, scoring nine runs on nine hits. Solomon got the merry-go-round going with a triple to the wall on a hard ground ball that almost took off the head of Belgrade shortstop Mike Bell. Solomon scored on Wirtzberger's single to center.
From there, Havre poured it on. Spencer and Normandy followed up with back-to-back singles. Tony Christian scored a run on a sacrifice fly and Erickson followed it up with an RBI single. Tibbals added his two-run single, while Solomon and Spencer collected their second hits of the inning.
"That inning was fun," Williams said. "Our kids finally started getting aggressive and going after the fastball and hitting the ball hard."
With an 11-run lead, Morse ended the game in the bottom of the eighth, striking out three of four batters to end the game via the 10-run mercy rule and get the save.
"Brandon did a nice job coming in on short rest," Williams said. "Chase gave us seven good innings and we're going to need that type of performance from all of our pitchers if we want to stay alive in the tournament."
Solomon, Wirtzberger and Spencer led Havre with four hits each, while Normandy, Cory Junck, Tibbals and Jordon Patterson added two hits.
"We need to take this momentum and this intensity into our game with Bitterroot," Williams said. "They are a good team and we need to continue to get contributions from everyone."
Havre 15, Belgrade 3
Havre Northstars 110 120 19 - 15 21 2
Belgrade Bandits 020 001 00 - 3 4 5
Chase Castloo (7), Brandon Morse (2) and Patch Wirtzberger; Nathan Quattrocchi (6), Jace Hertzog (1), Michael Bell (1) and Luke Anderson
WP - Castloo; LP - Quattrocchi; S - Morse
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Daine Solomon 4-6 (RBI), Patch Wirtzberger 4-6 (RBI), Ian Spencer 4-6 (2 RBI), Trent Normandy 2-6 (RBI), Jordon Patterson 2-6, Tony Christian 0-4 (RBI), Ben Erickson 1-4 (RBI), Cory Junck 2-4, Jeff Tibbals 2-3 (4 RBI).
BANDITS HITTING - Clint Marcott 2-4, Michael Bell 0-3, Eric Dighans 1-4, Dan Filson 0-4, Jace Hertzog 1-3 (RBI), Scott Hayes 0-2, Casey Kenison 0-2, Luke Anderson 0-2, T.J. Ryles 0-2, Joel Switzer 0-1.
2B - Spencer
3B - Spencer, Dighans
HR - Hertzog