By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
If the Havre Northstars are going to win the Class A State American Legion Baseball Tournament, they are going to have do it the hard way.
The Northstars suffered through a flat, uncharacteristic performance on Sunday evening at Legion Field in an 11-6 loss to the Libby Loggers in quarterfinal action.
Havre committed six errors leading to four unearned runs on defense, while stranding 12 runners on base on offense. Basically, it looked nothing like the team that went undefeated in the month of July.
"We just didn't come ready to play," said Northstars manager Mickey Williams. "There is no way we can make that many mistakes and leave that many runners on and expect to win. It doesn't matter who we are playing."
And who the Northstars were playing wasn't some slouch team. Libby, which won the Western A District tourney title, capitalized on every Havre miscue.
Libby broke open a 0-0 game in the bottom of the third inning as Zach Schad and Justin Barnes banged out singles off of Northstar starter Cory Junck to get things going. A Northstar error on a sacrifice led to the first run of the game. Junck then hit Mitch Mohr with a pitch with bases loaded to lead to the second run of the game. From there, the floodgates opened as Libby added three more runs on Brandon Laffoon's bases-loaded double. Another Northstar error led to another Logger run.
When Junck and the Northstars finally got out of the inning, Libby had scored six runs on five hits and built itself a very comfortable cushion.
"Everything just seemed to go wrong in that inning," Williams said. "Cory got into some trouble and we didn't do anything in the field to help him get out of it. They probably should have only scored two or three runs that inning, but we made some mistakes to give them six."
Spotting a team six runs is never a good thing, but spotting Libby six runs with Nate Herbig on the mound is like trying to play baseball with a blindfold on.
Herbig, who played this past spring at Miles Community College, was solid early on, limiting Havre to three hits in the first four innings. The Northstars still had five runners reach base in the first four innings, but stranded all of them.
The Northstars finally got to Herbig in the top of the fifth as Daine Solomon slapped a lead-off single to start the inning. A pair of walks to Patch Wirtzberger and Trent Normandy loaded the bases for designated hitter Jordon Patterson.
Patterson came through with a line-drive single to right, scoring Solomon and Wirtzberger. Herbig then hit Tony Christian in the helmet with a pitch to reload the bases. Ben Erickson came through with a big single to center, scoring Normandy and Patterson. Havre seemed poised to add to the big inning with runners on first and second, but Herbig struck out Eric Fanning and Jeff Tibbals to end the rally.
"We had some decent at-bats in that inning," Williams said. "Ben and Jordon came up with some big hits and it looked like we were starting to get things going."
But even after the Northstars put themselves back into the game, 6-4, Libby had an answer in the bottom of the sixth. A pair of errors and three consecutive singles led to four runs for the Loggers in the inning, pushing the lead back to 10-4.
"It's frustrating because we worked hard to get back in the game and then we go have another bad inning that takes us right back out of the game," Williams said.
Havre did manage to add a run in the eighth as Solomon singled and later scored on a Libby error. But the Loggers answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the inning.
The Northstars added another run in the ninth inning, capitalizing on a pair of Logger errors, but the rally came up short.
Herbig went the distance to get the win, allowing six runs on nine hits while striking out eight batters. Junck took the loss, surrendering 12 hits and 11 runs, eight of which were earned.
Solomon, Christian and Erickson had two hits each for Havre.
"You can't win games with the type of mistakes that we made," Williams said. "We haven't played particularly sharp in the past few weeks, but this wasn't even close to what we're capable of playing like."
The Northstars advanced to the quarterfinals with a big 7-4 win over the Gallatin Valley Outlaws in their opening game of the tournament on Friday night.
But it didn't look good early for them. The Northstars were clearly nervous and tight, playing in front of an extremely large crowd. The nervousness came through on the field as Havre committed two errors in the first inning, leading to four runs in the top of the first.
"A lot of the kids were pretty nervous," Williams said. "We played tight in that first inning and we made some errors that led to four runs. It's not exactly what I was looking for from them, but they settled down a little after that first inning."
Gallatin Valley returned the favor to Havre in the fourth inning as the Outlaws committed two costly mistakes leading to three runs to give the Northstars some momentum. Junck took a ball in the back with bases loaded to get another run, while Christian added an RBI single. Erickson culminated the inning with a two-run double to right as Havre roared to a 6-4 lead.
The Northstars added another run in the eighth inning on another Gallatin Valley error for some insurance.
"We did what we had to do to score runs," Williams said. "They helped us out a little in that big inning, but we were putting the ball in play and good things happened. Ben had a big hit for us."
After the shaky first inning, Havre starting pitcher Brandon Morse settled into a nice groove over the next eight innings. Morse had a few shaky moments with runners in scoring position, but the Northstars ace worked out of the jams with some key strikeouts to pick up the win.
Morse went all nine innings, allowing allowing just six hits and four runs with only two being earned.
Jeremy Knowles took the loss for Gallatin Valley. Knowles also pitched all nine innings, allowing 10 hits while striking out 13 batters.
Erickson, Solomon, Junck and Christian had two hits each for Havre.
"It wasn't a pretty win," Williams said. "But in a tournament you do what you have to to get wins and we'll gladly take it."
Havre will play the winner of the Billings-Belgrade loser-out game at 7:30 tonight.
"It's a disappointing way to lose," Williams said. "But we aren't done yet. The kids still know we can win it all. We are going to have to play a lot of baseball over the next two days to get there, but we can do it."
HAVRE 7, GALLATIN VALLEY 4
Gallatin Valley Outlaws 400 000 000 - 4 6 2
Havre Northstars 000 600 01x - 7 10 3
Jeremy Knowles and Justin Chaffins; Brandon Morse and Patch Wirtzberger.
WP - Morse; LP - Knowles.
OUTLAWS HITTING - Zeb Miller 1-3, Kyle Clark 0-3, Nathan Anderson 0-5, Justin Chaffins 3-5, Toby Marx 1-4, Shane Thurston 0-3, Tom Boyce 0-3 (RBI), Tom Boyce 0-3 (RBI), Tyler Blakely 0-5, David Knobel 0-1, Kevin Smith 1-2.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Daine Solomon 2-3 (RBI), Patch Wirtzberger 0-4, Ian Spencer 0-4, Ian Spencer 2-4, Trent Normandy 0-4, Jordon Patterson 1-3, Cory Junck 2-3, Tony Christian 2-4 (RBI), Ben Erickson 104 (2 RBI), Jeff Tibbals 0-4.
2B - Smith, Christian, Erickson
3B - Miller
HR - none
LIBBY 11, HAVRE 6
Havre Northstars 000 040 011 - 6 9 6
Libby Loggers 006 004 01x - 11 12 6
Cory Junck and Patch Wirtzberger; Nate Herbig and Brady Turk
WP - Herbig; LP - Junck.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Daine Solomon 2-5, Patch Wirtzberger 1-2, Ian Spencer 0-5, Trent Normandy 0-4, Jordon Patterson 1-5 (2 RBI), Tony Christian 2-4, Ben Erickson 2-5 (2 RBI), Eric Fanning 1-5, Jeff Tibbals 0-4.
LOGGERS HITTING - Tim Spencer 2-5, Jon Herbig 2-5, Mitch Mohr 2-4 (3 RBI), Nathan Herbig 1-5 (2 RBI), Brandon Laffoon 1-3 (3 RBI), Brady Turk 0-4, Jake Swartzendruber 2-4 (RBI), Zach Schad 1-4, Justin Barnes 1-4.
2B - Laffoon, Wirtzberger
3B - none
HR - none