Daniel Horton Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
There were high hopes for the Havre North Stars American Legion baseball team, but the North Stars found themselves going cold offensively at the most inopportune time. Taking part in the Northern District tournament, the North Stars road to a state tournament came to an end after dropping two straight games at Legion Field this weekend. On Friday, the Lethbridge Spitz Miners defeated the North Stars 6-1, and on Saturday, the Medicine Hat Knights narrowly held off the North Stars 14-13, in what almost became an astonishing ninth inning comeback. “A lot of guys just couldn’t find the stick this weekend,” North Star's head coach Steve Fanning said. “It’s a bad time to go cold. We hit better than that most of the year, and we just didn’t score a lot of runs this weekend.” Being cold on offense meant the North Stars had to find other ways to stay in the game. And facing the Miners, the North Stars found that through their defense. Throughout the game, the North Stars put their defense on display, making some exceptional plays. They caused the Miners to leave 12 men on base, and got out of trouble in various situations with a Brayden Grimson diving catch, and three double plays, including an unassisted DP by Kyle Miller at the shortstop position. “They kept us in the game,” Fanning said. “And those are the plays we need.” Through eight innings, the North Stars and Miners were almost dead even. They were tied 0-0 through two complete innings, before the Miners held only a 1-0 lead through the fourth. And though the Miners would go up 2-0 in the fifth, the North Stars kept things close. In the sixth inning, the North Stars found their way onto the scoreboard. They had only four hits prior to the sixth, but finally put a couple together for a run. Justin Jensen led off with a base hit, and Miller followed with a double. Shane Kemmer took advantage of men in scoring position and drove in a run on a sacrifice fly, bringing the Miners lead to 2-1. “We have to be confident at the plate,” Fanning said. “They need to understand in a nine inning game that they get a lot of at-bats. They have to stay positive, they can’t have a bad atbat and get down on themselves.” But slow at-bats and good defense could only keep the North Stars in the game for so long. In the eighth inning, the Miners fi- nally broke loose. They scored four runs on three hits, including two extra base hits to go up 6-1 over the North Stars. But more than just Miner's runs, the eighth inning brought an executive decision by Fanning. Roman Surber started on the mound for the North Stars and threw well all afternoon. But after earning two quick outs in the eighth, he ran into trouble, and struggled to find a third out. “Roman threw a good game,” Fanning said. “And I think he was strong enough to finish the game. I might have left him in a little longer, but I was con- fident in him. I feel better about leaving a guy in in that situation rather than bringing a guy in cold. He’s got the stuff to do it and he was doing fine.” Surber only gave up five earned runs, and also struck out four in his eight innings of work. On offense, Justin Jensen and Miller led the North Stars, both going 2-of-4. And Kemmer was 1-of-3 with the North Star's only RBI. The North Stars found themselves in a must-win situation on Saturday afternoon, but were still plagued by their offensive slump. “The bats were quiet,” Fanning said. “We weren’t executing very well, but I was pleased to see how they stayed in the game, played and how they finished. It’s good to go out like that rather than just rolling over, and they didn’t roll over, they kept playing.” After two innings, the North Stars found themselves up 1-0 early against Medicine Hat on a Willie DeVries RBI double off the left-center wall. And after the Knights put up five runs in the third, in the fourth the North Stars pulled back within 5-2 on a Garreth Bernard RBI. But the Knights took advantage on the quiet North Star bats, and continued to build on their lead. In the bottom of the fourth, the Knights took a dominating 9-2 lead on three more hits and a North Star error. And in the fifth, the Knights tacked on two more runs on two more hits to go up 11-2. Fighting to stay in the tournament, the North Stars decreased the nine-run deficit to five in the top half of the sixth. But with the bats still struggling, they found other ways to score runs. Tyler Olthoff reached first on a walk, and DeVries drove him in on a double. Grimson also reached on a walk, while Miller was hit by a pitch. Paul Jensen earned an RBI on a fielder’s choice, and Kemmer earned an RBI the hard way, also being hit by a pitch. The Knights lead was widdled down to 11-6 on an error and one North Star hit. But more runs came in the seventh inning for the Knights. And on two of their 14 total hits they were able to continue their offense, and rebuild their lead to 14-6. “We helped them out a little bit with some defensive miscues,” Fanning said. “But they swung the bat and hit the ball. They are a good team.” Just when the North Stars looked down and out, they made their move and almost pulled off what seemed like an impossible comeback. After almost two complete games with no offense, they finally found a groove. In the eighth inning Kemmer scored on a passed ball to cut the Knights lead in half, bringing the deficit to 14-7. And in the top of the ninth, things got even more interesting. The Knights recorded an out with the North Stars first at bat, but Olthoff answered right back with a triple. DeVries then earned the RBI with a base hit, before Grimson earned a base hit and Brandon Smith followed with an RBI single, bringing the score to 14-9. Justin Jensen got on board with a walk, and Miller recorded an RBI on a single. Paul Jensen also got in on the action, and earned an RBI on a sac fly to pull within four runs of the Knights. The North Stars were down to their last out, and still had men in scoring position. And Kemmer, who was 0-of-4 from the plate in the game prior to that point was up to bat. But he didn’t disappoint, and breaking out of his own slump, Kemmer drove in two RBIs on a double and brought the North Stars within one run. What started as a 14-6 blowout was suddenly a narrow 14-13 lead. And after a Knights pitching change, the North Stars dramatic comeback was fizzled away with a routine ground ball, resulting in the final out and the North Stars exit from the tournament. “We played nine innings,” Fanning said. “It didn’t look like it early, but they did. It was good to see.” On the weekend, the North Stars looked good early. They captured a 4-0 win over the Vauxhall Spurs in their first game, and looked well on their way to their goal of a State tournament birth. But after losing to some good teams, the North Stars finished the weekend gong 1-2. “Starting off with a win was good,” Fanning said. “We would have liked to get a couple more, but it didn’t end up that way. We would have liked to show what we have, we didn’t really come out and show everybody what we are capable of.” Knowing they had the ability to perform better than they did has its benefits, and the North Stars are already focused on next season. They had a good squad, and have chance of bringing everybody back except for Paul Jensen and Olthoff who will be too old next season. “It was good to have the 18-year-olds in the program,” Fanning said. “And I appreciate what they did for us. But I really want to encourage the younger kids to stick it out, even the kids who didn’t get a lot of playing time this year. It was a tough season, but they are going to get rewarded for it later on.