Havre Daily News Sports Editor
In a span of 48 hours, the Havre Northstars sent a message to rest of the Northern District that the two slip-ups earlier this season don't mean they are ready to give up their reign as defending regular season champs.
The Northstars swept a pair of key conference doubleheaders to grab a firm hold atop the conference standings and put themselves in position to win their third straight regular season title.
On Wednesday in Conrad, Havre used solid hitting and even better pitching to sweep the Tri-County Cardinals.
In the opening game, the Northstars banged out 14 hits en route to an 11-1 win.
Havre jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the first inning. Ben Erickson drew a bases-loaded walk and Austin Small laced a two-run single to the left-center gap. Scott Ladenburg wrapped up the inning with a sacrifice fly to right.
The four runs would be all that Northstar starter Chase Castloo would need. After surrendering a run in the first inning, Castloo would hold the Cardinals scoreless over the final six innings to improve his record to 3-4 on the season.
With Castloo cruising on the mound, the Northstars continued to pile up runs, adding three more in the second inning on RBI singles from Small and John Christian and a sacrifice fly from Erickson. They tacked on another run in the third and got an RBI double from Christian in the sixth. Just for good measure, Havre got an RBI single from Patch Wirtzberger and a sac fly from Josh Lowe in the seventh.
"I really liked how we started the game," said Northstars head coach Mickey Williams. "We really got on them early and came out with a lot of intensity. Anytime you can get some runs in the first, it makes everything a little easier."
It was certainly easy for Castloo, who pitched with a lead for all seven innings, allowing just the one run on seven hits. He struck out nine batters while walking just two.
"The big thing for Chase is that he didn't walk many hitters," Williams said. "Sometimes he has a tendency to give up too many free baserunners. But he was pretty sharp."
Offensively, Small led the way with, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Wirtzberger also had three hits and scored two runs. Christian and Lowe each added a pair of hits.
With such a dominant win in the first game, the nightcap should have been equally as easy. But that just wouldn't be the Northstars.
Havre found itself locked in a tight game for six innings, but managed to break it open in the seventh, scoring four runs to secure a 5-1 win.
With the score tied 1-1, the Northstars took the lead for good when Jeff Tibbals doubled and scored on fielding error by the Cardinals. Lowe added an RBI single and later scored on a passed ball, while Small lashed an RBI single to pad the lead.
The late run support cemented the win for Northstar starter Sean Peterson, who wrapped up a solid performance with a perfect seventh inning.
Peterson surrendered just one run in the game, allowing a lead-off single in the sixth to Adam Oiem, who later scored on a sacrifice fly. In seven innings, Peterson allowed just six hits while striking out eight and walking just one. The win upped his record to 4-3 on the season.
"Sean pitched a good game," Williams said. "He worked out of a couple jams early before giving up that run. He came up big in the seventh after we took the lead, retiring the side in order."
Small, Tibbals and Josh Morse all collected two hits apiece to lead the Northstar offensive attack.
"I was a little disappointed with the way we came out in the second game," Williams said. "Just because we win the first game easily doesn't mean it's going to just happen in the second game. We needed to have that same type of intensity that we had in the first game. But we did what we had to do to get the win."
While the wins over Tri-County helped the Northstars' regular season title hopes, their sweep of the Vauxhall Spurs on Wednesday night at Legion Field may have secured it.
Havre got solid pitching against a very good hitting Spur squad that came in in second place with a 12-4 conference record. The Northstars' bats also racked up 23 hits in two games to get the wins.
In the opener, Havre looked like it was doing its best to give the game away, racking up five errors and making a few costly mental mistakes. However, the Northstars overcame the miscues to salvage a 9-7 win.
"It wasn't pretty, that's for sure," Williams said. "I don't know how many of their runs were earned, but not many."
Actually, five of Vauxhall's runs were earned, but that didn't do much to comfort Williams.
"They hit the ball hard and they don't strike out much," Williams admitted. "But we have to make some plays defensively when you play a team like that."
Havre took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second as Scott Ladenburg delivered a two-out RBI single to right. He later scored on Sean Peterson's deep double to the right-center gap.
Vauxhall tied the score with three runs of its own in the fourth. The Northstars gave a pair of the runs back when Brendan Miller's base-loaded single scooted under the glove of centerfielder Josh Lowe.
Havre answered with two runs of its own in the sixth. Wirtzberger singled and manufactured a run on the bases with a stolen base and later scoring on passed ball. Small added a deep sac fly to center to score the other run.
Vauxhall cut into the 5-3 lead in sixth inning with one swing of the bat. Miller blasted a two-run home run to right field off Erickson to cut the lead to one.
"Ben got behind in the count and left a pitch up in the strike zone," Williams said. "Vauxhall hits the ball too well to do that."
However, Havre put the game out of reach, scoring four runs in the bottom half of the sixth. Tibbals and Christian had RBI singles, but Erickson helped himself, delivering the big shot - a bases-loaded double to the left-center gap to score a pair of runs.
Vauxhall gave Havre a slight scare in the seventh, scoring two runs, but Erickson worked his way out of the inning to get his sixth win of the season.
Erickson allowed seven hits and walked just one batter to get the win.
"Ben didn't have his best stuff, but he did what he had to," Williams said. "When you're a pitcher you won't always have everything working, so you have to find ways to win."
Christian led the Northstars with three hits and an RBI. Wirtzberger, Erickson and Lowe added two hits each.
In the nightcap, it would be the Spurs' fielding that fell apart with five costly errors. The Northstars gladly took advantage of the miscues to roll to a 12-2 win in five innings.
Havre broke open a 3-2 game in the fourth inning, scoring eight runs on just two hits as the Spurs imploded with three errors. However, the two hits were big ones. Erickson produced a bases-loaded two-run double and Small drove in a pair of runs with a hard grounder up the middle.
"They helped us out a little with a few mistakes, but we hit the ball hard and made them make some plays," Williams said.
With an 11-2 lead, the Northstars ended the game in the fifth via the 10-run mercy rule when Josh Morse executed a bases-loaded squeeze bunt, scoring Erickson.
"I was pretty happy with the second game," Williams said. "We didn't come out flat and we maintained our intensity. We were also much cleaner in the field."
Tibbals picked up the easy win on the mound, going all five innings and allowing the two runs on three hits. He threw 48 strikes in 74 pitches with a variety of breaking and off-speed pitches.
"Jeff pitched a nice game," Williams said. "Vauxhall can really hit the fastball, and he was able to get his off-speed over for strikes which kept them off-balance."
Erickson, Christian and Morse had two hits each to lead the offensive attack.
With the four wins in two days, the Northstars improved their record to 29-14 overall, but more importantly to 17-2 in conference, ahead of Vauxhall, which fell to 12-6.
"These were big wins for us," Williams said. "Our goal is to win the regular season and these four straight wins will definitely help achieve it."
Havre will be in action today in Billings for the Aaron's Class A Invitational. The Northstars will play four games in the next three days.
Northstars 11, Cardinals 1
Havre Northstars 431 001 2 - 11 14 2
Tri-County Cardinals 100 000 0 - 1 7 3
Chase Castloo and Patch Wirtzberger; Burns Brown (5), Colby Johnson and Josh Pyette.
WP - Castloo; LP - Brown.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 1-3; Patch Wirtzberger 3-5 (RBI); Josh Lowe 2-4 (RBI); Ben Erickson 1-3 (2 RBI); Austin Small 3-4 (3 RBI); John Christian 2-4 (2 RBI); Josh Morse 1-3; Scott Ladenburg 1-3 (RBI); Sean Peterson 0-4.
CARDINALS HITTING - Zach Styren 1-4; Adam Oiem 1-4; Craig Smith 1-3 (RBI); Josh Pyette 1-3; Burns Brown 0-2; Robin Christian 0-3; Dustin Ahrens 0-3; Colby Johnson 2-3; Judd Englehardt 1-3.
2B - Christian, Oiem
3B - none
HR - none
Northstars 5, Cardinals 1
Havre Northstars 000 100 4 - 5 9 1
Tri-County Cardinals 000 001 0 - 1 6 3
Sean Peterson and Josh Morse; Robin Christian and Josh Pyette.
WP - Peterson; LP - Christian.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 2-3; Patch Wirtzberger 0-2; Josh Lowe 1-4 (RBI); Ben Erickson 1-4; Chase Castloo 1-3; Austin Small 2-4 (RBI); John Christian 0-4; Josh Morse 2-3 (RBI); Bryden Vukasin 0-3.
CARDINALS HITTING - Zach Styren 0-3; Adam Oiem 2-3; Craig Smith 1-2; Josh Pyette 0-3; Burns Brown 0-3; Colby Johnson 2-3; Dustin Ahrens 1-3; Mike Shey 0-3; Judd Englehardt 0-3.
2B - Castloo, Tibbals
3B - none
HR - none
Northstars 9, Spurs 7
Vauxhall Spurs 000 302 2 - 7 7 4
Havre Northstars 030 024 X - 9 14 5
Mitch Schaaf and Ryan Hutchison; Ben Erickson and Patch Wirtzberger.
WP - Erickson; LP - Schaaf.
SPURS HITTING - Brendan Odland 0-3; Ryan Hutchison 0-4; T.J. Howg 1-4 (RBI); Jaden Odland 2-4; Brendan Miller 2-3 (3 RBI); Damon Howg 0-3; Clay Turcato 1-3 (RBI); Brett Conrad 0-3; Ryan Williams 0-2; Zach Rhodes 1-1.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 1-4 (RBI); Patch Wirtzberger 2-4; Josh Lowe 2-2; Ben Erickson 2-4 (2 RBI); Austin Small 0-3; John Christian 3-4 (RBI); Chase Castloo 1-4; Scott Ladenburg 1-2 (RBI); Sean Peterson 1-2 (RBI); Bryden Vukasin 1-2.
2B - Erickson, Peterson, Turcato
3B - none
HR - Miller
Northstars 12, Spurs 2
Vauxhall Spurs 101 00 - 2 3 5
Havre Northstars 003 81 - 12 8 2
Brendan Odland (3), Austin Ojala (1), Ryan Hutchison and Hutchison and Austin Ojala; Jeff Tibbals and Josh Morse.
WP - Tibbals; LP - Ojala.
SPURS HITTING - Brendan Odland 2-3; Zach Rhodes 0-3; Brendan Miller 0-2; Jaden Odland 0-2; Clay Turcato 0-2; Damon Howg 0-2; Phil Vilay 0-2; Mike Brown 0-1; Ryan Hutchison 1-2.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 0-2; Patch Wirtzberger 0-1 (RBI); Josh Lowe 1-3; Ben Erickson 2-3 (2 RBI); Austin Small 1-3 (2 RBI); John Christian 2-3; Josh Morse 2-2 (2 RBI); Bryden Vukasin 0-2; Sean Peterson 0-2 (RBI).
2B - B. Odland, Erickson, Morse
3B - none
HR - none