Daniel Horton Havre Daily News email@example.com
The long season has had its ups and downs for the Havre North Stars American Legion baseball team. But now is when the North Stars need to start playing their best ball. Thursday through Monday, eight teams will make the trip to Havre’s Legion Field for the Northern District Tournament with a pair of spots in the Class A state tournament on the line. Teams making the trip include the No. 6 North Stars (13-13), No. 1 Fort MacLeod Royals (20-7), No. 2 Lethbridge Miners (17-10), No. 3 Vauxhall Spurs (15-12), No. 4 Tri-County Cardinals (15- 13), No. 5 Medicine Hat Knights (15-11), No. 7 Great Falls Sparkies (9-18) and the No. 8 Great Falls Stallions (4-24). “We have beaten everybody in our conference,” North Star's head coach Steve Fanning said. “We know that we are capable of playing with anybody. I wish we would have had a better weekend so that we could have come in with a little more momentum, but we know that if we come in full strength with our pitching, defense and hitting that we can beat anybody.” In the first round of play on Thursday, the Cardinals will take on the Knights at 9 a.m., the Stallions will take on the Royals at 12 p.m., the Miners will take on the Sparkies at 3 p.m. and the North Stars will take on the Spurs at 6:30 p.m. to close out Thursday’s games. The North Stars and Spurs have met four times during the regular season, and though the seeding favors the Spurs at No. 3, the North Stars have found their share of success against them. In the series, the North Stars went 3-4 and are somewhat pleased with their first round bout. “It’s pretty good when we have the six seed and we’re playing the three seed,” Fanning said. “And yet we have beat them three times out of four games. I am not saying it’s a lock, but it makes you feel somewhat confident.” Confident or not, the North Stars do have to watch out for the Spurs. They have some of the better pitchers in the district, and have plenty of returning veterans hungry for their second straight state championship. And win or lose to the Spurs, the North Stars have just as tough of competition waiting in the wings. If the North Stars defeat the Spurs on Thursday they will face the winner of the Sparkies-Miners matchup at 6 p.m. on Friday. And if they lose to the Spurs, the North Stars will face the loser of the Sparkies-Miners matchup at 12 p.m. on Friday. The Sparkies have found some success against the North Stars and though they are a sitting as the No. 7 team with only nine conference wins, they have to be taken as a serious threat. And as of late, Fanning says they have really come into their own, playing good ball as of late and capable of and upset. The Miners will also present their share of trouble to the North Stars. The North Stars are coming off a weekend where they lost to the Miners in two games, 10-0 and 10-1. The Miners are always a tough opponent, and are very well coached. They are also so dif- ficult to beat because of how fundamentally sound they are, both offensively and defensively. But it doesn’t matter whom the North Stars face, every game is going to take their best efforts if they hope to win and advance to the championship. The Royals are another team that have the capability to dominate teams with their pitching, housing some of the tougher pitchers in the district. But that doesn’t take away from their bats. The Royals have a lot of returning players with a lot of American Legion experience. They are one of the more effective teams offensively and can really get the bats going. “I think anybody can play with them,” Fanning said. “I think they might have a deeper pitching rotation than a lot of teams and they can do some things offensively, but I don’t think anybody is heads and shoulders above anybody else.” Also right there in the race for a championship are the Cardinals and the Knights. Both squads have shown just how tough they can be, and house plenty of athleticism and talent. The Cardinals tend to hurt teams if they can get the bats going, while the Knight rely on a solid defense to keep them in contention. The Stallions have only won four conference games this year, but they are the perfect example of a team not to overlook. They are struggling now but have the ability to turn it on when they need, especially when tournament time rolls around. “You can never underestimate them,” Fanning said. The race to the finish is going to be a tough, but close one with the way these teams finished up the regular season. The Royals may shoulder the load as early favorites, winning 20 conference games, but the field is still wide open. Between the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds, there are only two games that separate them. “It’s that tight,” Fanning said. “You can’t really pick a favorite. I think what it’s going to come down to, is who can play the most games consecutively and consistently. And just the way our district is, not a lot of teams have been able to do that. We would like to come in and pick up where we were at just a couple weeks ago.” The tournament will get under way on Thursday at 9 a.m. when the Cardinals take on the Knights. But the tournament will get under way for the North Stars Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. when they take on the Spurs at Legion Field. Northern teams which qualify for the state tournament will move on to Three Forks July 30-Aug. 3.