George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor firstname.lastname@example.org
It's been a strange spring and summer for the Havre North Stars American Legion baseball club. The team has been short-handed, with a small roster that includes two Babe Ruth age players. The North Stars are one of the youngest clubs in their district, and they have had a season filled with tough losses and dramatic, come-from-behind victories. However, nothing that has happened to Havre from April until today matters anymore because the American Legion postseason is here, and the North Stars open district tournament play this evening in Conrad. Havre opens district tournament play as the No. 5 seed and they will take on tournament host and No. 4 seeded Tri-County tonight at 5 p.m. The North Stars went 11-17 in conference play this season, while the Cardinals were 14-12. The two teams met four times with Havre sweeping the Cardinals in Havre and Tri-County returning the favor in Conrad. "We swept them at home, and they did the same to us down there," Havre head coach Steve Fanning said. "Playing in their yard with their fans will play to their advantage." It's been three years since the North Stars have reached a Class A state tournament, and because the top-seeded Vauxhall Spurs are hosting the event next weekend, the Northern District has just one spot up for grabs this weekend in Conrad. And with the district being one of the deepest in Montana this season, it won't make the young North Stars' task any easier. Havre started the season strong, winning games behind what looked to be a deep, but youthful pitching staff. And while it took some time for the North Stars' offense to catch up with the pitching, it did so midway through the summer. However, the North Stars have, at times, struggled on the mound lately, and the bats have been sporadic. Still, Havre goes into the district tournament with its pitching staff in order, starting with veterans Paul Jensen, Josh Haas and Kyle Miller. The trio has combined to win 11 games this season for Havre. Shane Kemmer, Willie DeVries and Roman Surber will also help the North Stars on the mound should they be called upon this weekend in Conrad. While Havre's defense has been solid most of the season, the offense will be needed more than ever if the North Stars are going to make a trip to Vauxhall next week, especially with district games being nine innings instead of seven. Jensen and Kemmer lead the team in most offensive categories, while Haas has been strong in the lead-off spot since he was inserted there several weeks ago. Miller is one of the North Stars most reliable RBI men, and catcher Joe Malisani has had a strong second half of the season at the plate. DeVries has also hit well the last few weeks and veteran first baseman Nick Nault has probably been the North Stars most consistent hitter throughout the entire season. The chase for the one open spot in next week's state tourney starts this morning with No. 3 seed Lethbridge (17- 7) taking on No. 6 seed, the Great Falls Stallions (9-21). The Stallions made a surprise run at the district tournament last year, including two upset wins over the North Stars. The first round continues at 11 this morning with No. 2 seed Medicine Hat (19-7) taking on No. 7 seed Fort MacLeod (7-19), and at 2, top-seeded Vauxhall (25-3) will face No. 8 seed, the Great Falls Sparkies (5-23). Even with a berth in the state tournament already secured, the Spurs are considered heavy favorites in Conrad this weekend. But Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Havre, Tri-County and the Stallions could all make a strong case for the open spot in the state tournament. Even Fort MacLeod, who just split with the North Stars on Sunday in Havre, and the Sparkies, have beaten the upper-tier teams in the league this summer. If Havre wins today, it will play the winner of the Vauxhall/Sparkies matchup on Friday at 5 p.m. If the North Stars lose to Tri-County, they will face the loser of the game between the Spurs and Sparkies on Friday at 11a. m. The 2008 Northern District tournament will run through Sunday in Conrad, and the Class A State Tournament will be Aug. 2-6 in Vauxhall, Alberta.