Daniel Horton Havre Daily News email@example.com
Facing the top team in the conference, the Havre North Stars American Legion baseball team had its struggles. But amongst the struggles, the North Stars also showed they can compete at the top level. On Monday, the North Stars played host to the Fort MacLeod Royals in a conference doubleheader, where the two games were split at Legion Field. In game one, the Royals defeated the North Stars 14-2 in just five innings of play. But in game two of the afternoon, the North Stars regained composure and beat the Royals 13-8. With the two-game split, the North Stars moved to 11-11 in conference play and 12-22 overall. “That first game, you can’t judge anything from it,” North Stars head coach Steve Fanning said. “We know we can compete with these guys. If we make them play defense and have good pitching we can get them. I can’t say that we should have swept them, but we can play with them, I know we can.” In game one, the North Stars looked anything but in sync. Offensively they struggled to find hits when they needed them, and defensively they kept pitcher Brandon Smith on the mound longer than he would have liked. “We had our heads elsewhere,” Fanning said. “It just wasn’t a good game all they way around. We didn’t play defense. Brandon (Smith) threw better than it showed, it was just a terrible game.” The Royals, on the other hand, could do no wrong. They jumped to an early 2-0 lead after one inning, and quickly opened that up to 7-0 lead after a five run, four hit third. The North Stars had an opportunity to get on the board in the bottom of the third, but the Royals escaped unscathed. Justin Jensen and Smith earned back to back to singles, and Joe Malisani loaded the bases after being struck by a pitch. But continuing in his dominance, Royals pitcher Brayden Bloor went on to strike out the next two batters before forcing a ground ball for the final out of inning. “We just couldn’t come up with big hits when we needed them,” Fanning said. In the fourth inning the Royals scored five more runs on six more hits. But most of the damage come with one swing of the bat, as Hayden Shackel cleared the bases with a no out grand slam home run. Smith would get the North Stars on the board in the fourth inning on an RBI single, but even trailing 12-1 the Royals weren’t finished at the plate. In the fifth inning the Royals would tack on two more runs on another Shackel homer to take a 14-1 lead. Attempting to climb back into contention, Tyler Olthoff would get the North Stars on the board one more time before it was all said and done. In the bottom of the fifth he would match Smith’s RBI single, and give his club their second and final run of the game. Justin Jensen and Smith led the North Stars offense, both going 2-of- 2 from the plate. Roman Surber, Brayden Grimson and Olthoff all had a hit as well. Game two was a complete turnaround for the North stars. Their bats came alive and they proved they could compete with the top team in the league. And though the lead went back and forth for a short time, the North Stars were able to settle down and finish off the Royals. “We just played a better defensive game,” Fanning said. “And we also brought the bats. We had more hits, and better hits with men in scoring position.” Justin Jensen got the North Stars on the board in the first inning on a heads up play, scoring from third on a passed ball. And Malisani pushed the lead to 2-0 in the first after he plated Kyle Miller on a ground ball. And though the Royals were able to tie the score at 2-2 in the top of the second, the North Stars answered right back to take a 3-2 lead on backto- back doubles by Smith and Justin Jensen in the bottom of the second. The Royals also showed they could battle back from behind. In the third inning they would take a 6-3 lead on four hits and two North Stars errors. And though the North Stars would earn another run in the third on a Bernard RBI, the Royals would push their lead to 8-4 in the fourth. But trying to salvage a home doubleheader, the North Stars battled back once again. In the bottom of the fourth inning the North Stars earned six runs, all coming with two outs. Smith got things going by earning a walk, and Miller kept the inning alive with an RBI single. Willie DeVries would also drive in a run, followed by Bernard who also had an RBI single. Things really got interesting when Grimson forced a bad throw to first base while hustling down the line on a ground ball. The first baseman was overthrown, and three North Stars would score on the Royal's error, giving the North Stars a 10-8 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Royals were shut down in the fifth inning, but the North Stars added three more runs on three hits and three Royals errors. DeVries had a two RBI single, and Bernard would account for another RBI as well. Paul Jensen started the game on the mound for the North Stars, and he would finish in a big way. In the final two innings, he would face seven batters and allow only one hit and strike out three to close out the Royals for the win. And on the game, Paul Jensen struck out six Royal's batters, and would allow no walks in seven innings. DeVries went 3-of-3 and Bernard went 3-of-4, and they both had three RBIs for the North Stars. And Smith, Justin Jensen, Miller and Paul Jensen would all end the game with two hits each. The North Stars were able to escape a tough doubleheader with one win, and they will have their hands full with another tough conference opponent this afternoon. At 3 p.m. the North Stars will host Lethbridge at Legion Field, where they will try to tack on two more conference wins. “This is definitely good momentum going into tomorrow (Tuesday),” Fanning said. “If we would have gotten beat twice that wouldn’t of happened, so coming away with that win is big. And (tonight) we are going to see another good team.” Today's games with Lethbridge are the final regular season home games for the North Stars. Havre will next play at home during the Northern District Tournament at the end of the month.