Havre Daily News Sports Editor
There are times when the 2005 Havre Northstars baseball team could make head coach Mickey Williams pull his hair out. That's if Williams had any hair to pull out.
The Northstars once again displayed the maddening inconsistency that has plagued them at times this season with a rare home conference split with the Great Falls Sparkies Wednesday night at Legion Field.
In the opening game, Havre looked sluggish early and never really recovered in a 5-3 loss. The Northstars managed just five hits and left six runners on base, including three in scoring position.
It was a far cry from the baseball that Williams saw his team play this past weekend at the Luzenac Memorial Tournament in Three Forks. The Northstars went toe-to-toe with the best in Class A and came out with a 2-0 win over defending champ Glendive and a pair of one-run, last-inning losses to state title contenders Gallatin Valley and Bitterroot. The Sparkies, to be fair, haven't quite reached that upper echelon yet.
"I don't know why it is, but we seem to play down to some teams' level," Williams said. "We played great against good teams last weekend, but we didn't play like that against Great Falls."
Indeed, earlier this season the Northstars crushed the Sparkies 18-3 and 12-3 in a nonconference doubleheader. It's safe to say that Great Falls has improved since then, but so have the Northstars. Williams admits nothing is a given in baseball, but it was a game he believed his team still should have won.
"I think that's a big part of the problem," he said. "We get in these games that we should win and we act like it's just going to happen. They're not going to just give us the game. We have to go out and take it."
The game had the eerie feeling of deja vu for the Northstars, who lost a similar game to the Great Falls Stallions earlier this season at Legion Field for their first conference loss in more than two years.
"We had that same type of attitude in the loss to the Stallions," Williams said. "I don't want to say we were flat, but there just wasn't that sense of urgency or intensity that we play with against teams like Bitterroot or Gallatin Valley."
Things started off badly for the Northstars in the very first inning. Starter Chase Castloo registered two quick outs, but surrendered a single to Zach Semenza on an 0-2 count. Sparkie cleanup hitter Ryan Beecroft then laced a 1-0 pitch to the right center gap that rolled all the way to wall, easily scoring Semenza. As Beecroft was heading for third, shortstop Sean Peterson's relay throw went high over the head of third baseman Eric Fanning and out of play, awarding Beecroft a free pass home.
"We made some mental mistakes in that first inning that cost us," Williams said. "We get two outs right away and then just can't find a way to finish the inning."
Havre cut the two-run lead in half in the bottom of the first off Beecroft. Jeff Tibbals led off the inning with a triple to the wall. He scored two batters later as Ben Erickson's bouncing ball got through into left field for a single. Erickson advanced to second with one out, but was stranded after Peterson struck out and Austin Small's hard line drive to center was caught for the third out.
The Sparkies pushed the lead to 3-1 in the third as the combination of Semenza and Beecroft stung the Northstars again. Semenza singled and stole second. Beecroft drove him home when his hard ground ball to short took a nasty hop over Peterson's head.
"There isn't much you can do there," Williams said. "Sean was in position to make the play, but the ball took a bad bounce."
The two-run Great Falls' lead was shortlived, as Havre answered immediately with two runs in the bottom half of the inning to knot the game at 3-3.
Tibbals led off the inning by reaching on an error. He moved to second on Patch Wirtzberger's sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on a passed ball. Josh Lowe scored Tibbals with a hard ground ball up the middle, which scooted under the glove of Sparkie center fielder Jake Meierhoff, allowing Lowe to advance all the way to third. Peterson then exhibited some tough two-strike hitting, lining a single to right and scoring Lowe.
Havre seemed poised to take the lead immediately. Peterson moved into scoring position after stealing second, but Small's hard groundball to third was gloved for an out to end the threat.
From there, the Northstars would have their opportunities to take the lead, getting the go-ahead run on in every inning, but failing to score any of them.
Great Falls took the final lead in the top of the seventh, getting a pair of runs, again with two outs. Taylor Shannahan got things going with a single and scored easily on Cody Dobson's triple to right center that rolled all the way to the wall. Dobson scored moments later when Semenza ripped a single to left.
Havre got the lead-off man on in the seventh when Tibbals singled. But they weren't able to score him.
The stranded baserunners, particularly the ones in scoring position, irked Williams.
"We have to have somebody step up and get those guys in," he said. "It's tough to win games in Legion baseball when you score only three runs. We're a better team than that."
Beecroft picked up the win for Great Falls, pitching all seven innings and holding Havre to just five hits. Castloo took the tough loss, allowing five runs on seven hits. He struck out seven batters and walked two.
Offensively, Havre was led by Tibbals, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Erickson, Lowe and Peterson all had RBI singles.
In the nightcap, Williams got to see glimpses of the Northstar team that he remembered from the weekend. Havre looked much crisper offensively and defensively with a 9-1 win.
The Northstars grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning off Great Falls starter Reid Tramelli. Tibbals led off the game with a walk, moved to second on a balk call and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on Wirtzberger's single down the right field line.
Havre broke the game open in the third inning. Tibbals led off with a walk and Wirtzberger got on an error. They moved into scoring position on a double steal. Tibbals scored on a balk call and Wirtzberger scampered home on Erickson's long triple to the left-center gap. Josh Morse plated Erickson with sacrifice fly, while Fanning looped an RBI single to right to cap the four-run inning.
The 5-0 lead was more than enough for Peterson, who was dominant on the mound for Havre. He allowed just two hits over the first five innings and worked out of minor jams twice.
His only earned run came in the sixth when Jake Meierhoff led off the inning with a triple and scored on a Cody Dobson single. In his seven innings of work, Peterson allowed just three hits while striking out seven batters, walking two and hitting one.
"Sean pitched a nice game," Williams said. "He stayed ahead of hitters and made some big pitches to get out of a couple of jams. They didn't hit too many hard balls off him."
The Northstars added three insurance runs in the fourth as Erickson and Morse drove in runs with fielder's choices. John Christian capped off the inning with an RBI double to left. Havre added another run in the fifth. Small led off the inning with single and later scored on a wild pitch.
Havre had a respectable eight hits for the nine runs, but still stranded a whopping nine runners on base. Christian led the way with a double and a triple. Six other Northstars registered hits in the game.
"The second game looked closer to the baseball we are supposed to play," Williams said. "We were more aggressive and got after them early."
As good as the win in the nightcap was, Williams was still not pleased with the first game.
"I don't like to lose and I know the kids don't either," he said. "It's tough to go out and see us not play to the level that we're capable of, especially at home. But I think we learned from the first game and we're starting to understand what we need to do to win games."
Havre will once again face the best Class A has to offer at this weekend's Vester Wilson Wood Bat Tournament in Hamilton. The Northstars open with the host Bitterroot Red Sox on Friday at 7 p.m.
Sparkies 5, Northstars 3
Great Falls Sparkies 201 000 2 - 5 7 3
Havre Northstars 102 000 0 - 3 5 2
Ryan Beecroft and Tyler Brinka; Chase Castloo and Patch Wirtzberger.
WP - Beecroft; LP - Castloo.
SPARKIES HITTING - Taylor Shannahan 1-3; Cody Dobson 1-3 (RBI); Zach Semenza 3-4 (RBI); Ryan Beecroft 2-4 (2 RBI); Jake Meierhoff 0-2; Tyler Brinka 0-2; Colin Egan 0-3; Austin Crisman 0-3; Sean Doran 0-3.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 2-4; Patch Wirtzberger 0-3; Josh Lowe 1-3 (RBI); Ben Erickson 1-3 (RBI); Sean Peterson 1-2 (RBI); Austin Small 0-2; Josh Morse 0-3; Eric Fanning 0-3; John Christian 0-2.
2B - none
3B - Dobson, Tibbals, Beecroft
HR - none
Northstars 9, Sparkies 1
Great Falls Sparkies 000 001 0 - 1 3 2
Havre Northstars 104 310 X - 9 8 1
Reid Tramelli (4), Taylor Ferradas (1), Austin Crisman (1) and Taylor Ferradas, Tyler Brinka; Sean Peterson and Josh Morse.
WP - Peterson; LP - Tramelli.
SPARKIES HITTING - Jake Meierhoff 1-3; Cody Dobson 0-3; Zach Semenza 0-1; Ryan Beecroft 1-3; Tyler Brinka 0-3; Taylor Ferradas 0-3; Austin Crisman 1-2; Sean Doran 0-1; Darren Halbig 0-2; Nick Taylor 0-1.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 1-2; Patch Wirtzberger 1-1 (RBI); Josh Lowe 0-3; Ben Erickson 1-4 (2 RBI); Josh Morse 0-4; John Christian 2-3 (RBI); Scott Ladenburg 1-4; Eric Fanning 1-2; Bryden Vukasin 0-3; Austin Small 1-1.
2B - Crisman, Christian
3B - Meierhoff, Christian, Erickson, Ladenburg
HR - none