Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Havre Northstars sent a message to the rest of the Northern A District on Wednesday: The rare conference loss to the Great Falls Stallions a few weeks ago was exactly that - rare.
The Northstars reasserted their rule over the Northern A with a dominating doubleheader sweep over the Tri-County Cardinals at Legion Field.
"That's the type of Northstar baseball I am looking for," said head coach Mickey Williams. "I think our kids really came out focused and ready to play from the very beginning. They wanted to prove that what happened against the Stallions isn't something that is going to happen again."
After losing a Northern District game, even worse a home game, for the first time in almost two years, the current Northstars played with a purpose from the opening pitch.
Actually, Austin Small's opening pitch was a piercing strike on the inside corner to Tri-County's Zach Styrea. It was a sign of things to come.
Small was absolutely scintillating for the Northstars. He used an effective mix of well-placed fastballs and sharp curveballs to keep the Cardinals off balance.
"Austin did a good job of spotting his pitches," Williams said. "He was very efficient tonight. He threw a lot of strikes and was ahead of almost every hitter."
Indeed, of Small's 67 total pitches - a ridiculously low number for a seven inning game - 53 were strikes.
Small was sharp enough to hold the Cardinals to just one hit over six innings.
While the Cardinals were scuffling offensively, the Northstars set about ending any rumors about their offensive struggles.
After going scoreless and stranding two runners on base in the first inning, Havre exploded for five runs in the second inning. Jeff Tibbals and Patch Wirtzberger ripped a pair of RBI singles and Josh Lowe ripped a two-run double to left-center and later scored on a passed ball to cap off the inning.
"It was good to see us get going early offensively," Williams said. "We've been kind of waiting for our bats to start coming around. We haven't had a big inning like that in awhile."
The Northstars continued to add to their lead, tacking on two runs in the third on an RBI single from Lowe and a passed ball that scored Sean Peterson.
It appeared that Havre was headed to a five-inning 10-run mercy rule win, but the Northstars' bats cooled slightly. They got a run in the fifth on an RBI single from Chase Castloo and a run in the sixth on an RBI double from Tibbals.
But the nine runs and extra two innings would be more than enough for Small. His only slight trouble came in the seventh when he surrendered back-to-back singles to open the inning. An error by Peterson at shortstop loaded the bases with one out. However, Small got Dusty Ahrens to hit a ground ball to third to Eric Fanning, who fired home to start a pretty game-ending 5-2-3 double play.
Small went the distance to get his team-high sixth win, yielding just three hits, while striking out six hitters and walking none. He allowed just one runner to reach third base, while only two made it as far as second.
Havre banged out an impressive 14 hits, led by Lowe's 3-for-4 and three RBI performance.
"Josh has stepped into the three hole in our lineup and played well," Williams said. "He's probably been one of our most consistent producers the last few games."
Tibbals was also 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a pair of runs scored. Wirtzberger added two hits, two runs scored and a run batted in. Castloo and John Christian added a pair of hits and RBIs for the Northstars.
Any possibilities of a Northstar letdown in the nightcap were extinguished immediately. Tibbals picked up where Small left off on the mound, retiring the first nine hitters he faced.
Tibbals displayed pinpoint control, a nasty breaking ball and a general crispness that wasn't quite as evident in his last outing - a 6-0 loss to Gallatin Valley.
"Jeff just looked a little sharper than he did on Saturday against Gallatin Valley," Williams said. "He was able to spot his fastball better and his curveball had much more movement."
He held the Cardinals hitless for three innings before surrendering a lead-off single in the top of the fourth to Zach Styren, who was quickly thrown out by Northstar catcher Josh Morse on an attempted steal. The Cardinals picked up their second hit in the next at-bat, but they would only manage one more the rest of the way.
As Tri-County careened towards another shutout, the Northstars made sure this game would only last five innings.
Tibbals led off the bottom of the first with a single and later scored on a passed ball to give Havre an early 1-0 lead. The Northstars broke the game open in the second inning. Lowe ripped a bases-loaded double to the right-center gap, scoring all three runners. Sean Peterson added an RBI single to culminate the four-run inning and push the lead to 5-0.
From there, the lead would only balloon. Tibbals helped himself with a sacrifice fly to center in the third. Austin Small ripped a hanging curveball for an RBI single in the fourth and Fanning's soft single to center scored a pair of runs in a three-run fifth that pushed the lead to 9-0.
Havre ended the game an inning later as Tibbals led off with a single, moved to second on a passed ball and stole third. He later scored on Small's hard groundball to third that Tri-County third baseman Robin Christian couldn't handle, allowing Tibbals to scoot home to end the game in five innings via the 10-run mercy rule.
"We did a better job of putting them away in the second game," Williams said. "In the first game, we got the big lead and kind of let down. In the second game, we kept the pressure on them and put them away in five, which is something we haven't been good at doing so far this season."
Tibbals allowed just three hits in five innings of work. He struck out six batters and walked just one to pick up his fourth win of the season. Forty-four of his 64 pitches were strikes, and he had just one runner make it past second base.
"Pitching-wise, we got a pair of great performances from Austin and Jeff," Williams said. "They worked fast, got into a rhythm and let their defense play behind them. You can't ask for much more than that from your starting pitchers."
Havre had 11 hits in the game. Lowe once again led the Northstars with three hits and three RBIs. In his last five games, Lowe has racked up 12 hits and driven in nine runs, while cementing himself as a starter in the outfield in and in No. 3 position in the lineup. He also upped his average almost a hundred points to .447.
"Josh earned his spot with his performance on the field," Williams said. "He wasn't seeing a lot of playing time before, but he made the most of it when he was on the field and now he's out there all the time."
Tibbals was 2-for-2 with three runs scored, while Josh Morse had a pair of hits and scored a run.
With the wins, the Northstars improve to 19-9 overall and 12-1 in the Northern District.
"The loss to the Stallions really helped our team realize that there are no free wins out there," Williams said. "We're starting to understand that you have to show up ready to play because teams aren't just going to roll over us because we're the Northstars. We have to work to get our wins."
Havre will return to action Friday when it travels to the extremely tough Gallatin Valley Baseball Tournament in Three Forks. The Northstars will have games against the host Outlaws and the Bitterroot Red Sox and have two other games.
"This weekend will be a good test for us," Williams said. "All of the good teams that were here in Havre will be there. It's going to be a tough tournament."
Northstars 9, Cardinals 0
Tri-County Cardinals 000 000 0 - 0 3 0
Havre Northstars 052 011 X - 9 14 3
Julian Paulson and Josh Pyette; Austin Small and Patch Wirtzberger.
WP - Small; LP - Paulson.
CARDINALS HITTING - Zach Styrea 0-3; Judd Engelard 0-3; Craig Smith 1-3; Josh Pyette 1-3; Robin Christian 0-3; Adam Oien 0-3; Dusty Ahrens 0-3; Julian Paulson 0-2; Cody Pyette 1-2.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 3-4 (3 RBI); Patch Wirtzberger 2-5 (RBI); Josh Lowe 3-4 (3 RBI); Chase Castloo 2-3 (RBI); Ben Erickson 1-2; John Christian 2-4 (RBI); Austin Small 0-2; Eric Fanning 0-3; Sean Peterson 1-3.
2B - Tibbals, Wirtzberger, Erickson, Peterson
3B - none
HR - none
Northstars 10, Cardinals 0
Tri-County Cardinals 000 00 - 0 3 5
Havre Northstars 141 31 - 10 11 0
Adam Oien and Josh Pyette; Jeff Tibbals and Josh Morse.
WP - Tibbals; LP - Oien.
CARDINALS HITTING - Zach Styrea 1-2; Judd Engelard 1-2; Craig Smith 0-2; Josh Pyette 0-2; Robin Christian 0-2; Adam Oien 1-2; Dusty Ahrens 0-2; Mike Shey 0-2; Cody Pyette 0-2.
NORTHSTARS HITTING - Jeff Tibbals 2-2 (RBI); Patch Wirtzberger 0-1; Josh Lowe 3-4 (3 RBI); Ben Erickson 0-1; Sean Peterson 1-1 (RBI); Scott Ladenburg 0-3; Bryden Vukasin 1-3; Eric Fanning 1-2 (RBI); Josh Morse 2-3; Austin Small 1-2 (RBI); Chase Castloo 0-1; John Christian 0-1.
2B - Lowe
3B - none
HR - none