By Jason Shoot
Anyone searching for a favorite in this weekend's American Legion North District baseball tournament needs look no further than the hosts of the event, the Havre Northstars.
The Northstars, who finished the regular season 23-3 in league play and 40-15 overall, are the top seed and have all the ingredients necessary to successfully defend last year's tournament title.
Havre opens its tournament schedule against Fort MacLeod Thursday at 6 p.m.
Williams said his team's experience should play a large role in Havre's attempt to earn the tournament championship and a berth in the state tournament.
"You can't measure (experience)," he said. "Experience is 60 percent of the game and how you produce. You can practice all you want, but you can't replace experience. That's what I'm banking on is experience."
The Northstars are also banking on an offense that features three batters hitting well over .400 and five batters with more than 30 RBI.
Kyle Sheppard has been a monster against opponents this year, leading the team with a .436 average, 70 RBI and 15 doubles. Just as impressive is his walk-strikeout ratio seven strikeouts against 19 walks in 55 games.
Danny Wirtzberger and Jordan Anderson man the first two spots in the lineup and are hitting .434 and .433, respectively. Anderson has driven in 38 runs this season.
Jared Boyce (.391) and David Knight (.378) are also big contributors offensively for Havre. Knight is also second on the team in RBI with 52, and Boyce fourth with 37.
While Williams is sure he can count on the top of his lineup, he's hopeful other players in the bottom half of the order can provide some timely hitting.
"For us to be successful we need Garrett Hanson and C.J. Reichelt to step and get some big basehits," Williams said. "They're very capable of doing it, and they've done it in the past. I think Reichelt is a better hitter with men on base. They'll be a big key to the offense."
Williams said pitching will also be very important with the longer games. It will also separate teams who have one or two quality starters from those teams with three or four. Or, as in the Northstars' case, five.
Williams will work with a four-man rotation in the tournament and throw Doug Ireland (7-4, 5.44 ERA) at Fort MacLeod. Ireland has not faced the Royals this season, and Williams believes that gives his pitcher an advantage.
Eric Lipp (8-2, 2.20) will pitch the Northstars' second game, and he will be followed on the mound in successive games by Knight (10-2, 4.73) and Boyce (7-2, 3.12).
And, should Havre be upset at some point during the tournament, Sheppard (7-5, 4.78) would be available to pitch in a fifth game, if necessary.