Havre Daily News Sports Editor
At least for the time being, the 2005 Havre Northstars have survived their annual four-game series with their counterparts - the Havre Comets - without a loss.
The Northstars jumped out to an 8-0 lead, suffered one of their typical lulls, and held off a scrappy Comet comeback to pick up a 12-6 win and complete a season sweep over the Comets.
"I don't know what it is, but we just can't get away from those mid-game lapses," said Northstars head coach Mickey Williams. "We get that early lead and just kind of seem satisfied, which allows teams to get back into the game."
The Northstars got an early lead with a little help from the Comets, scoring three runs in the first inning thanks to a pair of Comet miscues to start the game. Patch Wirtzberger ripped a double down the right field line, scoring two runs, while Austin Small scored Wirtzberger with a single to right center.
The Northstars looked poised to turn the game into a rout in their second at-bat. They opened with back-to-back singles from Jess McLain and Eric Fanning and a walk to Josh Lowe. Comet starter Jeremiah Moog walked in a run, issuing a free pass to Sean Peterson.
After two costly errors in the first inning, Moog finally got a little help from his defense. Jeff Tibbals' hard ground ball to third was gloved by third baseman Bryan Heath, who fired home to start a 5-2-3 double play.
Moog and the Comets appeared to be working their way out of the jam with minimal damage. But Wirtzberger, Small and Ben Erickson came up with successive RBI singles to push the lead to 8-0.
"The Comets helped us out a little in the first two innings," Williams said. "But we were aggressive at the plate and on the bases. That's how we are going to score runs because we're not a power hitting team."
With an 8-0 lead and starter Ben Erickson firmly in control, the game looked destined to be a seven-inning game thanks to the 10-run mercy rule. But that just wouldn't be the Northstars, now would it.
Over the next two innings, they managed just one hit - a Peterson single - against Moog. Comet head coach Andy Smith went to Tanner Abdallah in relief and he worked a scoreless fifth as the Northstars' bats had cooled.
"Every game against the Comets it seems like we lose focus for about three innings where we just kind of put it in cruise control," Williams said. "We don't have the type of team where we can do that. We have to put pressure on the other team every inning."
With the Northstars now registering outs instead of runs, the Comets went to work about chipping away at the eight-run deficit. They finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth. Logan Reichelt laced a triple to the right-center gap over the outstretch glove of Northstars left fielder Austin Small. He later scored on Moog's groundball to second.
The Comets' first run seemed to invigorate them as they got to Erickson in the bottom of the sixth. Erickson started off the inning badly, hitting Tanner Donovan with the first pitch. After a fly ball out, Abdallah came through with a single that put runners on first and second. Both would score moments later as Erickson's younger brother, Michael, rapped a double to left. Things only got worse for the elder Erickson as he walked Spencer Ivers and surrendered an RBI single to Scott Vigliotti. The Comets final run of the inning came on Reichelt's soft grounder to short. The damage totaled four runs on three hits in the inning and cut the Northstar lead to 8-5.
"Ben started getting behind and leaving the ball up in the strike zone," Williams said. "He becomes a little easier to hit. And we made a couple of mental mistakes that cost us some extra bases. It's just another part of losing that focus."
Williams was less than pleased with his team's performance after the second inning and let them know about it before the beginning of the seventh inning.
"I just told them that the way we were playing was unacceptable," Williams said. "I got after them about trying to find that intensity they had in the beginning of the game. We just can't play that way and expect to compete in games."
The Northstars responded immediately. Ben Erickson was hit by a pitch and moved to second on Scott Ladenburg's sacrifice bunt. Erickson scored on Richard Jarvis' hard ground ball to left. Jarvis scored a batter later on Josh Morse's single to left as the lead went to 10-5. An inning later the lead went to 11-5 as Wirtzberger singled, stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. With Small on first thanks to a walk, the Northstars executed the double steal to perfection for a run.
The Comets tried desperately to stay in the game as Michael Erickson singled again to start off the bottom of the eight. He later scored on Reichelt's ground ball to third. But their offense would end there.
The Northstars picked up an insurance run in the ninth when Jarvis singled to start the inning and later scored on Morse's double to left. There could have been more runs, but a miscommunication led to Morse getting thrown out on the play and Sean Peterson's hard line drive was snared by Vigliotti at second.
Still, Williams was pleased with the way his team reacted to the scolding.
"We played much better in the final few innings," he said. "Obviously, I don't want to have to get after the kids every game. But we have to find a way to stay focused and intense for the whole game."
Ben Erickson got the win on the mound, going all nine innings and allowing six runs on 12 hits. He struck out six and walked one, but with pitchers John Christian and Chase Castloo missing because of tennis and a major tournament just days away, Erickson's performance was key.
"We're missing two of our pitchers and our rotation got a little messed up," Williams said. "We needed Ben to give us as many innings as he could and he was able to go all nine innings, which will help us this weekend."
Moog took the loss, surrendering six earned runs on eight hits in four innings. Abdallah pitched the final five innings, giving up four runs on seven hits.
Offensively, the Northstars were led by Patch Wirtzberger with three hits and two RBIs. Austin Small added two hits and an RBI. But Williams was particularly pleased with the play of Jarvis and Morse, who came off the bench in the sixth inning and picked up two hits and two RBIs each.
"Richard and Josh gave us a lift off the bench," Williams said. "Richard got a pair of nice hits and made some good plays at third. Josh was solid defensively, blocking several balls in the dirt and he also had some big hits. They are definitely making a push to see more time on the field."
The Comets' offense was led by Michael Erickson with three hits and two RBIs. Reichelt had two hits and two RBIs, while Anthony Wirtzberger and Scott Vigliotti had two hits each.
Both the Northstars and Comets will be in action this weekend in Great Falls at the Tom Taleff Memorial Day tournament.
The Northstars open play on Friday at 7 p.m. against the Great Falls Electrics at Centene Stadium. The Comets will play in the A tournament at Don Olsen Field and open on Saturday morning at 11:45 against Edmonton.
Northstars 12, Comets 6
Havre Northstars 350 000 211 - 12 15 1
Havre Comets 000 014 010 - 6 12 3
Jeremiah Moog (4), Tanner Abdallah (5) and Ryan Callahan; Ben Erickson (9) and Patch Wirtzberger, Josh Morse.
WP - Erickson; LP - Moog.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Sean Peterson 1-5 (RBI); Jeff Tibbals 1-6; Patch Wirtzberger 3-5 (2 RBI); Austin Small 2-4 (RBI); Ben Erickson 1-4 (RBI); Scott Ladenburg 0-4; Jess McLain 1-1; Eric Fanning 2-5; Josh Lowe 0-1; Josh Morse 2-3 (2 RBI); Richard Jarvis 2-2 (RBI).
COMETS HITTING - Logan Reichelt 2-5 (2 RBI); Jeremiah Moog 0-5; Anthony Wirtzberger 2-5; Tanner Donovan 0-4; Ryan Callahan 1-5; Bryan Heath 1-2; Michael Erickson 3-4 (2 RBI); Marshall Cartwright 0-2; Scott Vigliotti 2-4; Tanner Abdallah 1-2; Spencer Ivers 0-1.
2B - M. Erickson, P. Wirtzberger, Morse
3B - Reichelt
HR - none