Daniel Horton Havre Daily News email@example.com
Havre has already seen the start of tennis, softball and track and field, but come this weekend, the Havre Nort Star's American Legion baseball team will get their season underway as well. On Sunday, the Class A North Stars will open their season against the Class AA Great Falls Electrics, in Great Falls at 1 p.m. Facing the Electrics in a season opener will be new for the Northern Division North Stars. In the past. The Stars have opened play against the Great Falls Sparkies, the Electrics feeder team. But With a lot of the younger kids now leading the Electrics, the North Stars are very familiar with their lineup. “Our 17 and 18 year olds on this team have seen most of those kids.” Havre head coach Steve Fanning said. “And they have faired pretty well against them. They (Electrics) are still a AA team, so they will be competitive and their pitching is going to be deeper than ours, but it should be a pretty good game.” But a deeper lineup and rotation won’t be the only advantages the Electrics will hold over the North Stars on Sunday. After the Electrics finish up play on Saturday they will already have two games behind them. Regardless of the Electrics schedule, the Stars are up against a tough lineup for their season opener. The Stars will face some tough Class AA pitching, and a high quality team across the board. “It’s kind of a difficult first game.” Fanning said. “It will be a good way to measure our more experienced players. And it will just be a good opportunity to see where some of our kids are at.” Getting a lot of Fanning’s attention this weekend will be his pitching staff. Fanning will be looking for good production, and for them to establish the strike zone early. It is also important to not give up a lot of walks. But being so early in the season, Fanning is looking to give each pitcher no more than three innings. It will be difficult to settle into a rhythm, but it will also give Fanning the opportunity to gauge where they are at. “If they (Electrics) hit them around the park, I am not really worried about that.” Fanning said. “It’s just a matter of them going out and working on their mechanics and throwing some strikes. We have a deep rotation this year, so I just need to see how they will all perform.” Pitching will play a big role throughout the North Stars' entire season. Shane Kemmer, Kyle Miller and Paul Jensen highlight the returning pitchers to take the mound and the better they play the better the team performs. “Our pitching is what’s going to hold us together.” Fanning said. “ And those are the kids I am looking to lead this ball club throughout the season.” Roman Surber, Justin Jensen and Brandon Smith will also take the mound for the North Stars this season. They return from last year’s lineup and are expected to also play impact roles. In past years, the North Stars haven’t been known for their high-octane offense. They didn’t produce a lot of runs a year ago, and they are in a similar boat this season. But with players like Will DeVries in the lineup, the offense shows a lot of promise. He has improved immensely over the off-season, and should produce a good amunt of runs this year. But when the aces aren’t on the mound, they should also give the offense a boost. Miller, Kemmer, Justin Jensen and Paul Jensen have big bats, and will hold down the front end of the batting order. “They are really going to be looked at to be our run producers.” Fanning said. “They are going to be at the top of the order. I am not saying we can’t be an offensive threat, but somebody has to step up and I am looking at some of my 17 and 18 year olds to start leading right now offensively.” But while the offense takes time to mold and develop, the North Stars defense is going to have to step up and help out the pitching. The Stars still don’t have a starting nine set and after losing Nick Nault at first base and Josh Hass at second base that will be tougher than expected. And though Paul Jensen has experience at first and third base, as of right now there is no definite name to fill either spot full time. And when it comes down to it, two or three kids may be used to fill the gaps. “We have some guys who haven’t had a lot of experience at first base.” Fanning said. “So we are trying to see who fits that mold. And we are trying a few kids at second base to see who can step up and fill that spot.” Joe Malisani will fill the catcher position for the North Stars, and as a leader on the defense his play will also be important to the success of the team. “That’s a key position for us.” Fanning said. “And I am looking for him to do some leading as well.” And besides Kemmer taking center field and Miller at shortstop, a lot of the defensive positions are still up for grabs. There are a lot younger kids out this year and they are showing a lot of promise as well. Fanning couldn’t pick out any specific standouts, but is impressed with the group as a whole. “I am really impressed with how my 15 and 16 year olds have came in.” Fanning said. "We are really pleased with where they are at and they will be able to help out this year in a lot of different ways.” Building on last year’s success is at the top of the team’s priorities early. And if the younger talent can have a good season they will help achieve that. The North Stars were able to get a victory over the Tri-County Cardinals at districts a year ago but missed out on a trip to state. And this year with districts in Havre, the North Stars are looking to take it one step further and make the trip to state. But taking it one step at a time, the Stars have a tough Northern Division to get through, including Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Vauxhall, Fort Macleod, Great Falls Stallions and the Great Falls Sparkies. And on top of that, Vauxhall took home the state championship a year ago, while Lethbridge walked away with a second-place state finish. “It is challenging.” Fanning said. “There are some good teams and we see some good competition. It is an above average schedule for sure. I want to improve a lot from last year, and I think this team has an opportunity to go to the state tournament.” The North Stars open their season on the road on Sunday against the Great Falls Electrics at 1 p.m. And on Wednesday, April 29 the North Stars face the Electrics again, but this time in their home opener. And conference play begins for the Stars on Sunday, May 17 when they take on the Great Falls Stallions in Havre.