George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
It is no big secret that men’s fastpitch softball has been in decline in recent years. At least in participation in Montana. But don’t tell that to three softball teams from Havre. At least on a state, and sometimes national level, Havre should be considered a place where men’s fastpitch softball still rules the summer. This weekend, all three of Havre’s teams will be in Missoula for the ASA Montana Men’s State Fastpitch Softball tournament. And if this year’s tournament is anything like the 2005 tournament in Havre, then there will be plenty of hardware coming back to Havre on Sunday night. Last year, Havre didn’t just play host to the state tournament, but the town collected the three top places, and all of the bids to the national tournament. Master Sports defeated the Gallery Lounge for the 2005 state championship, and the team, led by veteran pitcher and former Havre Daily News sports editor Ryan Divish, will enter this year’s tournament in search of its fourth straight state title, and its ninth championship since 1994. Despite having just moved to Tacoma, Wash., Divish will be in Missoula this weekend to try and help Master Sports keep its stranglehold on the championship trophy. Before moving from Havre last October, Divish had become one of the most dominant pitchers in Montana over the last six years. His resume includes eight state titles, including two in a row as the winning pitcher of record, several trips to regional tournaments, and appearances in six national fastpitch tournaments. As an outfielder, Divish earned ASA All-American honors in 1997 and 1998. Master Sports also has a solid backup pitcher in veteran Andy Smith, who has been one of Montana’s leading power hitters over the last 10 years. The team also features another pair of longtime Havre softball veterans in Mike Sherrill and Bruce Smith. Both players have seen their share of state tournaments over the last two decades. Justin Hofeldt is another veteran player that will help Master Sports. Master Sports’ roster also includes some quality young talent like Ricky Brown, Kyle Sheppard, Trent Normandy, Cody Gilge and Mace Mangold. Frank Cornwell and Ryan Knudson round out the three-time defending state champion’s roster. In its first season as a club, the team known as the Gallery Lounge came agonizingly close to capturing a state championship behind the veteran right arm of Gary Joe Evans. For years, Evans was the premier pitcher not only in Havre, and in Montana, but was widely regarded as one of the top fastpitch hurlers in the U.S. Evans, who now resides in Kalispell, has been a part of many historic Havre fastpitch teams, and has also taken time off from the game over the last five years. But Evans returned last season and guided a young Gallery team to a remarkable run at the state tournament. The team has a good mix of youthful and talented hitters and a couple of crafty veterans in Evans and Cal Wirtzberger. Dan Wirtzberger, who started the squad and pitched most of last season, has been sidelined this year with injuries, but his younger brother Patrick Wirtzberger has stepped in to fill his role.
The rest of the Gallery’s roster includes MSU-Northern football players Don and Dylan Saisbury and Coda Tchida, as well as recent Havre Northstars standouts Daine Solomon, Ben Erickson, Eric Fanning and Jeff Tibbals. University of Montana football player Marc Mariani and former Havre High three-sport star Scott Miller round out the Gallery’s roster for this weekend. The final Havre team entered in the state tournament this weekend features two of the most veteran pitchers in Havre. Taco Johns, led by pitchers John Shennum and Matt Kretchmer, finished third at the state tournament in 2005, and the team should be primed for another run at a trophy this weekend. Shennum has been a staple in Havre fastpitch for over two decades. Kretchmer is dedicating this, his 29th state tournament to the memory of his father Dwayne, an avid softball fan who passed away in March. “If “Kretch” were here, he’d say good luck to all of our teams,” Kretchmer said. Taco Johns has also added a pair of former Master Sports veterans for this weekend in Rob Watson and Belgrade resident Eddie Holgate. In the late 90s the pair played together in the middle of the infield for several Master Sports state and regional championship teams. Between them, the duo of competed in three ASA national tournaments as well. Taco Johns will also have Dallas Reece of Helena and Kenny Berg of Great Falls on its team this weekend, as well as former Havre resident Lance Reithmeir, who now resides in Missoula. Rounding out the T.J.’s roster is Ryan Hartwell, Brit Cotter, Kyle Fanning and Jared Boyce. As good as all three Havre teams are, the state tournament won’t be easy for any of them. Despite a decline in fastpitch participation over the last decade, there will be 14 teams in the tournament this weekend. Aside from the three Havre squads, there are also four teams from Billings and three from Missoula, as well as teams from Lincoln, Clinton, Bonner and Drummond. For the first time in history, there isn’t a single team in the tournament from Great Falls, a once softball-rich city. Of the non-Havre teams in the field, Missoula’s Silver Dollar is likely the most competitive due to veteran pitchers Alan Powell of Missoula, and former MSU-N wrestler Neal Samoy. Both hurlers are seasoned players, and Powell, like Evans, has been a toprated pitcher at the national level for years. The double-elimination state tournament will have three spots on the line to the ASA Class C National Fastpitch tournament in Marietta, Ga., Aug. 30-Sept. 4. The Montana state tournament gets under way on Saturday morning and will run through Sunday afternoon. The tournament will be held at the fields at Fort Missoula, McKormick Park and Spurgin Park