If major league baseball teams hit the stretch run and chase pennants in the dog days of August, then that time is now for American Legion baseball and the Havre North Stars.
The North Stars are trying to secure a top seed in next weekend’s Northern District tournament and they will play two critical, final home games this afternoon at Legion Field. Havre is at home to face the Vauxhall Spurs in a Northern District double dip today, starting at 1.
And not only are the North Stars looking to wrap up their home slate with a pair of wins, but they are hoping for a strong finish to the season – a regular season that comes to an end on Friday when they travel to Conrad to take on the Tri-County Cardinals.
But first things first. The North Stars must play two solid games against the Spurs, a team they swept last month up in Vauxhall. Havre is currently in third place in the Northern District with a 15-9 conference record. However, Havre has lost four of its last six league games, including a tough setback to the Lethbridge Miners on Monday night in Havre. The North Stars were also swept by Medicine Hat on the road last week, so they are certainly looking to turn the tables today and tomorrow.
And pitching will play a key role in doing so. Havre is hitting the ball well, and manufacturing runs when needed, but at times, the North Stars have ran into some late-inning trouble on the mound, as was the case in ace Brandon Smith’s outing against the Miners on Monday. Havre’s pitching staff of Smith, Justin Jensen, Mark Vukasin and Gareth Bernard, as well as relievers like Spencer Ross, Jase Kato and Tyrell Pierce have all been very solid throughout the season, but to play well and make a deep run over the next two weeks, the North Stars will need to finish games strong.
At the plate, Havre should do well against both the Vauxhall and Tri-County pitching over the next two days. The North Stars took care of the Cardinals last week at home, and are 2-0 against the Spurs, and one key ingredient was timely hitting. Smith leads the team in most offensive categories, but Jensen and Mark Vukasin have also been hitting the ball hard, while Gareth Bernard and David Denny have been red-hot as of late. Bernard has six extra-base hits in his last eight games. And against the Cardinals and Spurs combined, the North Stars have racked up over 40 hits in four games this season, so they’ll be looking to do plenty of damage from the dish this afternoon.
And these games today couldn’t be any bigger. The North Stars could move back into second place with a strong showing today at home, and in Conrad on Friday. But they could also drop as low as fourth and end up on the top-seeded Great Falls Electrics side of the bracket at the district tournament. And only one spot to the state tourney is up for grabs next week in Medicine Hat because the Electrics are already in to state due to being the host of the tournament. So getting a high seed at districts is paramount for the North Stars, who haven’t been to the state tournament in seven years.
Today’s games between the North Stars and Spurs start at 1 and 3 at Legion Field. Havre then wraps up the regular season with games at 3 and 5 p.m. Friday in Conrad.