By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
The last time Joe Bakken took the mound for Glendive, he didn't exactly have his best outing.
In fact, according to Bakken, it may have been the worst performance of his career. He failed to get out of the first inning and allowed six runs against Glasgow in the Eastern A Divisional tournament.
But Bakken was better Tuesday evening at Legion Field. The 18-year-old right-hander led the Blue Devils to a 7-4 win over Libby in the undefeated semifinal game of the State A Legion baseball tournament.
Glendive will face Libby again at noon today in the championship, as Libby rebounded to knock off the defending champion Bitterroot Red Sox 8-1 in the semifinal/loser-out game Tuesday night.
Libby must defeat Glendive twice to win the title. Should Libby win the opener today, a second championship will follow at approximately 3 p.m.
Bakken pitched eight strong innings Tuesday, allowing four runs - two of them earned - and six hits to redeem himself on the mound.
"Joe competed more than he did any time this year," said Glendive coach Chad Jones. "He didn't have his best stuff of the season, but he fought his way through. It was one of his gutsiest performances of his career."
Indeed, while Bakken was better than his last performance, he admitted he was far from perfect. He struggled at times throwing his fastball for strikes and walked seven batters. However, he did have pinpoint accuracy with his curveball and used it on several occasions to get out of jams.
"My curve was working pretty good," Bakken said. "I really didn't have my best stuff and I couldn't spot my fastball, so I had to go the curve. I just tried to throw strikes and let them hit it and let my defense do the work."
Said Jones: "For the last three years, his curveball has been his bread-and-butter pitch. He can throw it for a strike and at this level you're going to be successful if you can do that."
Bakken's biggest problems came in the first inning as Libby grabbed a pair of runs. Jake Swartzendruber singled to left and later scored on Mitch Mohr's stand-up double to the right-center gap. Mohr later scored on a passed ball to give Libby a 2-0 lead.
Glendive, which won the 2002 Class A championship, pecked away at the lead as Greg Ford launched a triple to right in the top of the second and later scored on Andy Odenbach's single. Bakken helped his own cause an inning later with a run-scoring single to tie the game at 2-2.
The Blue Devils took the lead an inning later, scoring runs on an Evan Miller double and a Matt Iba single.
After the shaky first inning and plenty of run support, Bakken started cruising through the Logger order with plenty of help from his defense.
Glendive turned a pair of nifty double plays and got a spectacular diving catch by first baseman Odenbach, who dove head-first for a foul pop and collided with the front of the first-base dugout and still hung onto the ball. Each of those critical plays ended possible Libby rallies.
"We made a couple of errors that led to some runs for them early on," said Jones. "But we also stepped up and made some great plays to keep them from getting runs. The double plays were nice and Odenbach's catch really got us fired up for the last innings."
Bakken's only letdowns after the first inning came in the fourth and eight innings when lead-off walks came around to score.
Offensively, after taking the early lead, Glendive played for one run an inning. The strategy worked as the Blue Devils tacked on runs in the fifth, sixth and ninth innings.
The lower third of the Blue Devil lineup did most of the damage, scoring or driving in each of the three insurance runs.
"After the first game against Belgrade, the bottom half of our order wasn't even there," Jones said. "I sat them down and reminded them how important it is for them to contribute. They stepped up tonight and got on base and got some key hits."
Up 7-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Bakken started to tire, surrendering a pair of hits to lead off the inning. Jones went to his ace Greg Ford in relief.
Ford retired the next two batters with ease, striking out two of them.
Ford led the Glendive offense with four hits, while Bakken, Iba and Matt Erickson added two hits each.
Jon Herbig threw a complete game for Libby in its 8-1 win over Bitterroot. Bitterroot advanced to the semifinal/loser-out game with a 5-4 win over Havre earlier in the day.
Jones said he will start Ford, who already has a 16-strikeout win in the tournament, in the championship.
Ford, who pitched this past spring at North Dakota State, will have 11 of his allotted 12 innings available for the championship game(s).
Libby will likely start ace Nate Herbig in the championship. Herbig, who pitched this past spring for Miles City Community College, beat Havre earlier in the tournament.
"When we won the title in 2002, there was like an average of six errors committed per game," Jones said. "It all comes down to who can pick up the ball cleanly and who can execute in situations."
Glendive 7, Libby 4
Glendive Blue Devils 011 211 001 - 7 14 1
Libby Loggers 200 010 010 - 4 6 2
Joe Bakken (8), Greg Ford (1) and Collin Radakovich; Brandon Laffoon and Brady Turk.
WP - Bakken; LP - Laffoon.
BLUE DEVILS HITTING - Evan Miller 1-4 (RBI), Matt Iba 2-4 (RBI), Chase Downs 1-5, Joe Bakken 2-4 (RBI), Greg Ford 4-5 (RBI), Collin Radakovich 0-4, Logan Meiers 1-4, Andy Odenbach 1-5, Jason Erickson 2-4.
LOGGERS HITTING - Tim Spencer 1-4 (RBI), Jake Swartzendruber 1-5, Mitch Mohr 1-1 (RBI), Nate Herbig 0-2, Brandon Laffoon 0-4, Brady Turk 1-3, Cole Spencer 1-4, Zach Schad 1-3, Justin Barnes 0-4.
2B - Miller, Mohr
3B - Ford
HR - none
Libby 8, Bitterroot 1
The Libby Loggers kept their title chances alive with an 8-1 win over the Bitterroot Red Sox in the tournament's second semifinal, eliminating Bitterroot from the tournament. The win assures that there will be a new state champion this year since the Red Sox were the defending champions.
Libby rode the solid pitching of youngster Jon Herbig to the win. Herbig pitched all nine innings for the Loggers, allowing one run on eight hits. He was backed up by a flawless Libby defense that didn't commit a single error.
Logger catcher Brady Turk broke open a 0-0 game in the top of the fourth, launching a grand slam home run off Bitterroot starter Ryan Curran to give Libby a 4-0 lead.
Bitterroot answered with its only run of the game in the bottom half of the inning as Ryan Curran scored for the Red Sox.
Libby tacked on three more runs in the fifth keyed by a Jake Swartzendruber two-run single.
Herbig overcame three walks, a hit batsman and a balk with six strikeouts and some timely ground balls.
Curran took the loss, also pitching all nine innings and allowing nine hits while striking out eight. Only five of Libby's eight runs were earned, as Bitterroot committed three uncharacteristic errors leading to three runs.
Swartzendruber and Herbig had two hits each for Libby, while Turk finished with four runs driven in. Jordan Mousley, Lucky Barrett and Patrick McKay had two hits each for the Red Sox.
Libby Loggers 000 430 001 - 8 9 0
Bitterroot Red Sox 000 100 000 - 1 8 3
Jon Herbig and Brady Turk; Ryan Curran and Patrick McKay.
WP - Herbig; LP - Curran.
LOGGERS HITTING - Tim Spencer 1-5, Jon Herbig 2-5, Mitch Mohr 1-1, Nate Herbig 0-5, Brandon Laffoon 1-4, Brady Turk 1-4 (4 RBI), Jake Swartzendruber 2-5 (2 RBI), Zach Schad 1-3, Justin Barnes 0-4.
RED SOX HITTING - Kyle Melton 0-4, Jordan Mousley 2-4, Lucky Barrett 2-4, Brett Henry 1-4, Ryan Curran 1-3, Patrick McKay 2-3, Ross Anderson 0-3, David DeSantiago 0-3, Jesse Gardner 0-3, R.J. Higgins 0-1.
2B - Mousley
3B - none
HR - Turk