Havre Daily News Sports
The Montana State Men's Fast-pitch softball tournament returns to Havre's Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field, starting tonight at 9 p.m., albeit a year earlier than usual. The tournament was originally supposed to be held in Great Falls, but was switched to Havre due to a lack of a league in Great Falls.
While the tourney hasn't been in Havre since 2002, what hasn't left Havre in quite some time is the state championship trophy, which has belonged to the Master Sports fast-pitch team for the last two years.
Although the team has been revamped some over the years, the hometown club is once again the favorite to capture a third straight state title, with a lineup of familiar names. All but one of Master Sports' players suited up for the Havre Northstars in their younger days.
Master Sports best chance at success will fall on the right arm of veteran pitcher Ryan Divish, who has been stellar each of the last two seasons in the state tournament. Master Sports should go as far as Divish's arm can take them.
Still, the MS club has always been a team known for power hitting and speed, and this year's group is no exception. Aside from Divish, Master Sports is paced by veteran catcher Andy Smith as well as veteran hitter Mike Sherrill.
Havre returns four players from last year's team: shortstop Kyle Sheppard, third baseman Andy Anderson, centerfielder Mace Mangold and leftfielder Steve Heberly. Sheppard, who played two years at Miles Community College, had a solid tourney last year and has been a part of two state titles.
Heberly, who is the reigning Big Sky Conference champion in the 200 meter dash for Montana State, obviously brings a wealth of speed, but he is also a dangerous hitter.
Anderson has been an integral part of Master Sports' success since the team finished third at the ASA C National tournament in 1999.
Also playing a big role is third baseman Ricky Brown, who plays baseball for Dakota State University. Brown was second in the league in home runs this season and is a dangerous hitter. Other former Northstars like Nate Baltrusch, Garrett Hansen, Jordan Anderson and Trent Normandy give Master Sports a very potent lineup.
While Master Sports may have the inside track on a third consecutive state championship another Havre team might just have something to say about that.
The Gallery Lounge squad is comprised of relatively young and inexperienced softball players, but they have plenty of talent and athleticism. The Wirtzberger family will suit up for the Gallery Lounge as father, Cal, and sons Dan and Patch, will also take the field.
Cal Wirtzberger is a veteran fast-pitch player, who came out to play with his sons this season. He played for the old Gallery Lounge teams of the 1980's.
Dan Wirtzberger plays wide receiver for the MSU-Northern football team, while Patch just wrapped up his career on the Havre Northstars and is heading to Billings next fall to play baseball for the MSU-Billings Yellowjackets.
The Wirtzbergers' involvement with the squad prompted a long-time fast-pitch legend to don his spikes one more time.
Havre native Gary Evans, who is Cal Wirtzberger's brother-in-law, will make a much-anticipated return to Sixth Avenue Memorial Field. Evans was widely considered the best pitcher in the state of Montana in the 1990s. His last appearance in Havre came in the 2001 state tournament, where he helped Master Sports take second. The Gallery Lounge also has a pair of seasoned veterans in Mike "Hoover" Peterson and Bob Evans, Jr.
The Gallery features a slew of local athletes who are just beginning their fast-pitch careers. MSU-Northern quarterback Kyle Samson and defensive end Josh Glahn have played all season, along with Havre High football standouts Gary Wagner, Coda Tchida and Marc Mariani. They also recently added former Northstar standout Daine Solomon, who plays college baseball at Wallace State in Hanceville, Ala.
A third Havre team will also be very competitive this weekend. Taco John's will look to continue its solid success at the state tournament. Taco John's, behind veteran pitchers John Shennum and Matt Kretchmer, finished third at state in 2002 and 2003.
The team also has a host of veteran fast-pitch players like Shawn Keeley, Eddie Holgate and Chad Kissee. Keeley, a former state champ in the 100 and 200-meter dash, will be one of the faster players in the tournament.
Holgate played for the Northstars and was also a longtime member of Master Sports. Kissee also suited up for the Northstars. Taco John's will also get contributions from former Northstar Michael Holden, along with former Ice Hawk standout Eric McLain. Taco Johns's lineup will ensure that all three Havre teams will be very tough to beat on their home field this weekend.
But of course the field will not just be Havre teams. With four teams from Billings, including teams that feature former Havre resident Jamie Thole and KG and Rocky Mountain College standout Jake Stuart and three teams from Missoula, the tourney will be tough to win.
The Missoula contingent is led by the Silver Dollar Bar team. Silver Dollar already owns a victory over Master Sports this year as they downed MS 8-4 in the championship game of the Moe Smith tournament in Missoula in July.
Silver Dollar is led by long-time Missoula pitching legend Alan Powell and they also feature a standout player in Neil Samoy.
Powell was a part of the Missoula Bud dynasty in the 80s and 90s and has played in countless ASA national tournaments. He is also a dangerous hitter.
Samoy, who wrestled at MSU-Northern, is a talented pitcher and tremendous hitter and will be one of the tournament's better players. The team also features former Havre Northstar Kyle Boespflug, along with veteran players in shortstop Brad Shaffer, second baseman Von Richter and first baseman Rob Ridley.
In all there are 10 teams competing for the state championship this weekend. The action will get under way tonight at 9 p.m. at the Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field. There will also be some games on Saturday at Lions Park. The tournament will conclude on Sunday with the championship game set for 4:45 p.m.
9 p.m. - Taco John's vs. Tiny's Tavern (Billings)
8 a.m. - Aspen Sound (Missoula) vs. Reichenbach Mortage (Billings)
9:45 a.m. - Master Sports vs. winner of game 1
11:30 a.m. - Silver Dollar (Missoula) vs. winner of game 2
1:15 p.m. - loser-out game
3 p.m. - loser-out game
4:45 p.m. - loser-out game
7:15 p.m. - quarterfinal game
9 p.m. - quarterfinal game
8 a.m. - Bonner Boys (Missoula) vs. Gigglin Grizzly (Billings)
9:45 a.m. - Gallery Lounge vs. L.A. Olsen & Associates (Billings)
1:15 p.m. - loser-out game
3 p.m. - loser-out game
8 a.m. - loser-out game
9:45 a.m. - loser-out game
11:30 a.m. - semifinal game
1:15 p.m. - loser-out quarterfinal
3 p.m. - loser-out semifinal
4:45 p.m. - championship
6 p.m. - if necessary championship