Closing out the regular season with a 1-1 split with Lethbridge, one of the top teams in the in district, the Havre North Stars are hopefully entering the postseason with some positive momentum.
And the North Stars are going to need as much momentum moving forward as possible. The American Legion Northern District tournament starts Thursday in Vauxhall, and the field is packed with talented teams. Great Falls (16-8) enters the post season as the No. 1 seed, while Lethbridge (15-7) is the No. 2 seed. Medicine Hat (14-10) is No. 3, Vauxhall (13-10) is No. 4, Fort Macleod (11-12) is No. 5, Havre (6-16) is No. 6, and Tri-County (6-18) is the No. 7 seed.
Havre will open up the weekend tournament with a very tough opponent. The North Stars face Medicine Hat Thursday at 10 a.m.
And while Medicine Hat is the No. 2 seed, they are also the only team in the district that the North Stars haven’t beaten at least once. And if the North Stars can get a win over the Knights, they would advance to Friday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinals to face the winner of the Lethbridge/Tri-County game. But if the Knights defeat the North Stars in the opening round, the North Stars would drop into the loser-out bracket and face the loser of the Lethbridge/Tri-County matchup Friday at 10 a.m.
“Momentum is huge,” Havre High head coach Danny Wirtzberger said. “But the game you really want to win is that second game. Whether you win or lose the first game, that doesn’t put you in position, that second game you play is what matters in an eight-team bracket. Yes it would be nice to win, then win again, but it is that second game that really matters.”
Lethbridge and Tri-County will play Thursday at 2 p.m., and Fort Macleod and Vauxhall will play Thursday at 6 p.m. Great Falls earned the first round bye and will await the winner of the Fort Macleod/Vauxhall matchup Friday at 6 p.m. The championship game is also set for Sunday at 2 p.m.
With just two losses separating the North Stars and the end of the 2013 season, Havre has to play their best baseball of the season over the next few days.
A trip to state is on the line, and it will be tough to get past Medicine Hat in the opening round. Pitching has been a factor for the North Stars all season long, and Tyrell Pierce is going to be heavily leaned on. Pierce has been the ace on the mound all season long, and if he can throw strikes, keep his wild pitches to a minimum, and rely on his defense to make plays, then the North Stars have a shot at competing with anybody in the district. Gavin Gunderson also needs to have some solid outings. He doesn’t blow a lot of batters away with his pitching, but he does get batters to put the ball in play.
Defensively, shortstop Travis Roth has been a standout in the infield, as has David Denny at first base. And center fielder Thurman Holdsclaw missed the last four games of the regular season, but is the anchor in the outfield. Havre struggled with costly errors in the early stages of the season, but executed much better as the season progressed. If the defense can get outs without giving up multiple errors in an inning, then they should be able to limit runs, and keep any deficits within striking distance.
The lineup has also found their bats later in the season compared to the beginning of the season.
Holdsclaw has been pretty consistent for the North Stars, as had Gunderson and Roth. But Deion Hammet has also shown he can hit the ball, and when one North Star finds a groove, they all seem to catch fire. When on, Chris Vukasin, Denny, Ryne Antley, Spencer Ross and Pierce can also find holes in the opposing defense.
“We have been preaching to just throw strikes, hit the ball well, hit the ball hard, and just putting the ball in play,” Wirtzberger said. “We find that when we run into trouble, we aren’t putting the ball in play, so that is what we are stressing this week. We also just want to calm down and let the game come to us, the weight is off of our shoulders, and we are there to upset other teams.”
Medicine Hat defeated Havre by scores of 16-2, 11-0, 25-21 and 15-7 this season. The early games were lopsided, but the second time around, the North Stars proved they could put up runs too. In the third meeting betw,een these two teams, the North Stars will have to limit the entire lineup, but will also have to watch out for the bat of Ryan Fauth. Fauth had a five hit outing against the North Stars this season.
But the North Stars can’t just have one good game this weekend. Great Falls, Lethbridge, and Medicine hat could all very well win the title this season, but showing they can compete with anybody, the North Stars could end up in the chipper themselves. But Havre will have to play nearly flawless baseball, especially if they get past the first round.
“We are going in there with the weight off our shoulders,” Wirtzberger said. “I know Great Falls has three or four arms that they can pitch, and that is more than the rest of us. But other than that, we all have one, maybe two pitchers. And after those guys pitch, it is going to be a tossup, it really is. It is going to be whoever’s bats are on fire, and hopefully that is us.”
Havre will face Medicine Hat Thursday at 10 a.m. in the opening round of the district tournament. The top two teams from the Northern District advance to next week’s Class A state tournament in Helena.