Havre Daily News Sports Editor
A long streak was broken Wednesday night at Legion Field. Unfortunately for the Havre Northstars, it wasn't the good kind.
For the first time in 37 games, or the span of almost two years, the Northstars lost a Northern District conference baseball game.
The Great Falls Stallions A squad, a day after surrendering 44 runs to the Havre Comets, shut down and nearly shut out the Northstars, grabbing a 2-1 win at Legion Field.
"It's been a long time since we've lost a conference game," said Mickey Williams. "I honestly can't remember when it was, but I know it was more than a year ago."
To be exact, the last Northstars' loss against a conference foe, including the district tournament, came on July 15, 2003, as the Lethbridge Miners swept the Northstars in a pair of games at Legion Field.
But Williams wasn't much for pondering the past. He was busy fretting about the future. His team's offense was simply anemic.
The Northstars managed just four hits against Stallions starter Jeremy Bates. They added to their problems by striking out five times and reaching bases just six times in the game.
"That was one of the poorest offensive performances I've had from a team, especially at home," Williams said. "Their pitcher didn't do anything special. We just didn't hit the ball."
Limiting a team to two runs in seven innings is usually good enough to win most major league baseball games, let alone an American Legion game. Unfortunately, Northstar starter John Christian was the recipient of the nonexistent run support.
Christian pitched a solid game, shutting down the Stallions for the first five innings. In that span, his team managed just one hit and struck out four times.
"There is no reason we should be striking out that often," Williams said. "We have to make adjustments with two strikes. He just kept working the outside corners and we didn't change anything to hit that pitch."
In the top of the sixth, the Stallions broke open the scoreless game, scoring a pair of runs. Christian suffered a lead-off single from Zach Griffith, who promptly stole second and third. He later scored on a wild pitch. Christian then walked the next batter and gave up a fielder's choice to John Coleman to get an out. However, Jeremy Bates lifted a fly ball over center fielder Josh Lowe's head to score Coleman.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the defense when the lead-off hitter gets on like that," Williams said. "We probably should have only allowed the one run in the inning."
Down 2-0, the Northstars answered immediately in the bottom half of the inning. Jeff Tibbals led off with a single, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. Sean Peterson scored him moments later with a sacrifice fly to center. Austin Small seemed poised to keep the rally going, singling sharply to center and then stealing second. However, Bates got Ben Erickson to fly out to first and struck out Chase Castloo to end the threat.
Havre had one last gasp in the seventh. Josh Lowe reached on an infield hit, but he was subsequently gunned down a pitch later attempting to steal second.
"There isn't any one play that cost us," Williams said. "We never put ourselves in position to win the game. We didn't get hits or base runners to allow us to manufacture some runs."
Bates got the win, going all seven and allowing just the one run. He only walked one batter, while striking out five.
Christian also went seven and allowed the two runs on five hits. He struck out five and walked one. But he took the touch-luck loss.
"John pitched well enough for us to win that game," Williams said. "You can't complain about giving up two runs in a game. But I guess it was too much for us."
Havre's four hits came from Tibbals, Small, Lowe and Josh Morse.
"We just didn't have the intensity we should have," Williams said. "We came out flat and just expected to win. I don't know if it's because of what the Comets did to them yesterday, but we aren't a good enough team to just show up and get a win."
With such a shocking loss, most people familiar with the Northstars figured there would be repercussions in the second game. But for the first few innings, the Havre offense still lacked any punch.
The Northstars did get runners on second and third in the second inning, but Stallions starter Carter Lewis got Josh Morse to fly out and struck out Richard Jarvis.
The Stallions carried over the confidence from the first win and got on the scoreboard in the top of the third against Northstars starter Austin Small. Shawn Pallett reached on a third strike that hit the dirt and advanced to second on a botched pick-off attempt. Pallett later scored on Tyson Wilke's double to short center. John Coleman scored Wilke with a single up the middle to push the lead to 2-0.
Finding themselves down 2-0, the Northstars still couldn't muster much offense and appeared headed for a shocking sweep. But they got a little help from Lewis and the Stallions in the top of the sixth.
Lewis walked Tibbals and Sean Peterson to start the inning. Ben Erickson moved both runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt. Chase Castloo drew a walk to load the bases and Christian delivered a single up the middle to score Tibbals and Peterson to tie the game at 2-2.
Havre took the lead for good moments later, when Castloo scored on Jess McLain's ground ball to second. Christian tried to add to the lead on Josh Morse's infield single but was thrown out at the plate.
With a one-run lead, Small came on in the seventh and survived a lead-off single to Aaron Stuker and a balk, striking out Shawn Pallett and getting a pair of pop outs to end the game.
"We still didn't hit the ball like we're capable of," Williams said. "I really thought that after the first game, we would come out really fired up. But I don't think we started playing with much enthusiasm till about the fifth inning. We need to have that every inning."
After the trouble in the third, Small allowed just two hits over the next four innings. Overall, he allowed just four hits and struck out seven.
"Austin pitched a pretty good game," Williams said. "He threw strikes and got ahead of hitters for the most part."
Offensively, Havre again managed just four hits - all singles - from Tibbals, Christian, McLain and Morse.
"We're a better hitting team than that," Williams said. "Our kids know that. We just need to get better at going up there with a game plan and an understanding of what we want to do."
Earlier in the day, a split would have seemed like a horrible outcome, but after the game, Williams felt fortunate to come away with one.
"With the way we played, I'll take a split," he said. "I don't like to lose and the kids don't either. It's not something that we are satisfied with around here. But we learned a few things about what we need to do to win games."
Stallions 2, Havre 1
Great Falls Stallions A 000 002 0 - 2 5 2
Havre Northstars 000 001 0 - 1 4 0
Jeremy Bates and John Coleman; John Christian and Josh Morse.
WP - Bates; LP - Christian.
STALLIONS HITTING - Zach Griffith 2-3; Tyson Wilke 1-2; John Coleman 0-3; Carter Lewis 0-3; Jeremy Bates 1-3; Ken Blair 0-1; Aaron Stuker 0-3; Jesse Blair 1-3; Shawn Pallett 0-3; J. Sutherland 0-2.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 1-3; Sean Peterson 0-2 (RBI); Austin Small 1-3; Ben Erickson 0-2; Chase Castloo 0-3; Scott Ladenburg 0-3; Josh Lowe 1-3; Eric Fanning 0-3; Josh Morse 1-2.
2B - Bates
3B - none
HR - none
NORTHSTARS 3, STALLION 2
Great Falls Stallions A 002 000 0 - 2 4 1
Havre Northstars 000 003 X - 3 4 2
Carter Lewis (5), Shawn Pallett (2) and Zach Griffith; Austin Small and Josh Morse.
WP - Small; LP - Lewis.
STALLIONS HITTING - Zach Griffith 0-4; Tyson Wilke 1-3; John Coleman 1-2; Carter Lewis 1-3; Jeremy Bates 0-3; Jesse Blair 0-3; J. Sutherland 0-3; Aaron Stuker 1-3; Shawn Pallett 0-3.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 1-2.; Sean Peterson 0-1; Ben Erickson 0-2; Chase Castloo 0-2; John Christian 1-2 (2 RBI); Jess McLain 1-3; Josh Morse 1-3; Richard Jarvis 0-2; Bryden Vukasin 0-2.
2B - Wilke, Lewis
3B - none
HR - none