By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Havre Northstars did everything they could to win Tuesday afternoon's loser-out game in the Class A State American Legion Baseball Tournament. It's just that the Bitterroot Red Sox did a little bit more.
Bitterroot's Brett Henry laced a long double over the head of leftfielder Jeff Tibbals in the eighth inning off of Northstar ace Brandon Morse to start a late Red Sox rally. Henry advanced to third on a wild pitch and later scored on Ryan Curran's single to center to break a 4-4 tie.
The one-run lead held up as R.J. Higgins was able to keep the Northstars scoreless in the top of the ninth to secure the win.
"It's a tough way to end the season," said Northstars manager Mickey Williams. "But realistically, the game should have never been that close at the end. We just didn't hit the ball in the early innings."
Indeed, as has been the case all season, Havre struggled against a control pitcher, who threw mostly off-speed pitches.
Bitterroot's R.J. Higgins will never be confused with Roger Clemens in terms of velocity on his fastball. Higgins rarely threw his fastball. Instead, he fed the Northstars a steady diet of breaking pitches and knuckleballs that Havre hitters simply didn't hit hard.
"We always seem to struggle with pitchers like that," Williams said. "We get out on our front foot and pop pitches up or hit soft ground balls. We probably only hit two or three balls really hard."
The Northstars collected only five hits in the game and watched as shortstop Kyle Melton and third baseman Jordan Mousley gobble up a few possible hits with some solid defense.
"Their left side of the infield took away a few hits from us," Williams said. "They made some tough plays when they needed to."
Bitterroot broke open a scoreless game in the bottom of third, scoring four runs on three hits. A lead-off walk to Jesse Gardner came back to haunt Morse as Melton and Mousley also reached base to load the bases for Lucky Barrett, who responded with a two-run single to left.
The Red Sox got another run on a Henry single to center and another run on a fielder's choice to go up 4-0
"Every time we play Bitterroot, we have that one bad inning that seems to hurt us," Williams said. "We just couldn't make the plays to get out of the inning."
Higgins kept Havre at bay early, holding the Northstars scoreless for the first five innings. Havre managed just one hit - a Patch Wirtzberger single - over the first five innings.
"There is no reason we should have been held to one hit for that long," Williams said. "We just didn't do a very good job of making the adjustment to the speed he was pitching at."
Havre got into the scoring column in the top of the sixth. A one-out Jeff Tibbals walk got things started. Daine Solomon followed that up with a single and Wirtzberger notched his second hit of the game, driving in Tibbals. Ian Spencer and Trent Normandy followed with back-to-back RBI singles, scoring Solomon and Wirtzberger to cut the lead to 4-3.
Jordon Patterson tied the game with a ground ball to third. He beat out the possible double play, while Spencer scored on the play. Havre appeared poised to take the lead as Tony Christian smacked a single to center, but Patterson was called out at third on a bizarre play.
Patterson, who was trying to advance from first to third on the single, got a late start and hesitated a little. Bitterroot's throw to third beat Patterson by about three steps and he appeared to be out. However, home plate umpire Tim Miller called Patterson safe.
After a brief argument from Red Sox manager Jason Goligoski, Miller appealed his decision to base umpire Jeff Hill, who called Patterson out.
After a brief exchange between Miller and Williams, Williams was ejected.
"There was no doubt that Jordan was out," Williams said. "I was just questioning his reason for appealing the call. It was my mistake. I should have just let it go."
The controversy surrounding the ejection, only seemed to motivated the Northstars, as Morse went out and held Bitterroot scoreless the next two innings.
Unfortunately, Havre couldn't scratch a run across. The best opportunity came in the seventh. Ben Erickson led off the inning by reaching on a rare error by Melton. But the Bitterroot shortstop overcame the miscue, turning a 6-4-3 double play two batters later to get Bitterroot out of the inning.
"We didn't lose the game in the eighth when they got the run," Williams said. "If the game was lost anywhere, it was in the first five innings when we were held scoreless."
Morse took the tough loss for Havre in the final game of his solid Legion career. The Northstar ace allowed seven hits and struck out 11 batters in the game.
"Brandon pitched well enough to win," Williams said. "We just didn't give him enough run support."
Offensively, Wirtzberger collected two of Havre's five hits. Henry led the Red Sox with three hits and two RBIs.
Havre ends its season with a 51-17 record and a fourth-place finish in the tournament.
"Obviously, it's a disappointing way to end the season," Williams said. "The kids are disappointed because they know that we only showed brief flashes of the type of team we are. Still, fourth place in the state is nothing to hang their heads about. They accomplished a lot this season. There are plenty of other teams, who never made it this far, who would gladly trade places with them."
Bitterroot 5, Havre 4
Havre Northstars 000 004 000 - 4 5 0
Bitterroot Red Sox 004 000 01x - 5 7 3
Brandon Morse and Patch Wirtzberger; R.J. Higgins and Patrick McKay.
WP - Higgins; LP - Morse.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Daine Solomon 1-4, Patch Wirtzberger 2-4, Ian Spencer 1-4 (RBI), Trent Normandy 1-4 (RBI), Jordon Patterson 0-4 (RBI), Tony Christian 0-4, Ben Erickson 0-3, Cory Junck 0-3, Jeff Tibbals 0-2.
RED SOX HITTING - Kyle Melton 1-3, Jordan Mousley 1-3, Lucky Barrett 1-4 (RBI), Brett Henry 3-3 (2 RBI), Ryan Curran 1-4 (2 RBI), Patrick McKay 0-3, Daniel Eccles 0-3, David DeSantiago 0-4, Jesse Gardner 0-4.
2B - Henry
3B - none
HR - none