By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Opponents call them a tournament team.
At the Class A Northern District American Legion baseball tournament, the Havre Northstars lived up to that title.
The defending state champion Northstars (46-14) went 4-0 and captured their second-straight district title at the tournament that was held in Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada, during the weekend.
"Our pitching and defense was great tournament-style play," said Manager Mickey Williams. "It was a good weekend."
The championship game was a 15-3 rout of Medicine Hat, a team with whom the Northstars split during the regular season and a team who the Northstars had already defeated, 9-3, in the second round of the tournament.
Havre had won 6-of-7 tournaments this season, losing just one AA tournament in which they played without the 18-year-olds.
Havre went 24-4 in tournament play during the season.
However, it was the semifinal matchup at the district tournament against Lethbridge that ensured a repeat trip to the state tournament, with the winner earning an automatic seed.
"It was a nailbiter," Williams said about the 10-inning game.
Lethbridge, the No. 1 seed entering the tournament, had split with Havre during the regular season.
In the eighth inning on Saturday, with the game knotted up at 3-3, Garrett Hanson collected a base hit, advancing Ricky Brown. Jared Boyce singled, sending Brown home for the go-ahead run.
From the mound in the bottom of the inning, Brown struck out 2-of-4 batters, and, with runners at second and third, the Northstars held the Miners to just one run, again tying the game.
In the 10th, Havre scored two runs. Jordan Anderson advanced to second on a Miners' error and a single by Hanson advanced Anderson to third base.
Brown collected the RBI when Anderson scored. Another error at first base, on a hard-driven ball hit by Kyle Sheppard, brought in the second run.
With the Miners' last at-bat, Havre committed its only error of the game and advanced a runner. Lethbridge's fourth batter singled to advance the base runner to third.
Brown struck out a batter, but the Lethbridge catcher smacked an RBI single, slicing Havre's lead to one run.
Brown walked a batter, and, with the bases loaded, the tying run at third, and the winning run at second, the Lethbridge batter sent a 1-1 pitch into the glove of David Heberly at first base for the third out.
The Northstars won, 6-5.
"It was a tremendous game by both teams," Williams said.
Both teams had nine hits, while Havre had three walks, seven strike outs, and one error, Lethbridge had four walks, six strike outs, and two errors.
In game one of the tournament, Havre nipped the Great Falls Sparkies, 11-1. Sheppard earned the win from the mound, pitching a two-hitter. He threw a 65-pitch count and had no walks.
"Kyle pitched a tremendous game," Williams said. "It was a great start for us."
Brown went 4-for-4 with one home run and two doubles, while Heberly went 2-for-4.
In the second game, Havre defeated Medicine Hat, 9-3, and advanced to the semifinal against Lethbridge.
Boyce earned the win from the mound behind 12 strikeouts. He gave up five hits and had no walks.
However, the score could be deceiving, as the Northstars held a slim 4-3 lead going into the top of the ninth inning.
David Knight sparked the Northstars with a base hit, followed by a walk by Anderson. A pitcher throwing error led to a bases loaded situation, and a walk gave the Northstars a 5-3 lead.
Heberly then connected on a two-run RBI, which opened up the game for Havre.
Jay Rucinsky and Knight played well defensively, Williams said, with Knight turning the momentum the Havre way with a throw from right field that stopped Medicine Hat's tying run.
The Northstars will open against the No. 1 seed from the Central Division at the State A tournament. The tournament will be played at Glasgow, with Havre playing at 8 p.m. on Friday.
District Tournament Results
Havre def. Great Falls Sparkies, 11-1. WP Kyle Sheppard.
Havre def. Medicine Hat, 9-3. WP Jared Boyce.
Semifinal: Havre def. Lethbridge, 6-5. WP Ricky Brown.
Championship: Havre def. Medicine Hat, 15-3. WP David Knight (3) Doug Ireland (3) Eric Lipp (3).