The last two summers have been tough on the Havre North Stars American Legion baseball club. And while the North Stars have had some big wins over that time period, total wins have been hard to come by.
However, with the dawning of a new season, third-year head coach Danny Wirtzberger is as excited as he’s ever been, and he says his North Stars should be the big surprise of the Northern District this summer.
“The attitude these guys have has been awesome,” Wirtzberger said. “I have never been as excited as I was after the first day of practice. These guys work really hard, and they are bringing the right approach. My hope is, we’re going to surprise a lot of people this season.”
The North Stars only have 12 players on the club, but they make up for a lack of quantity with quality and experience.
Havre returns a veteran group of players, including first basemen David Denny, right fielder Spencer Ross, pitcher Chris Vukasin, outfielder Ryne Antley, pitcher and utility player Tyrell Pierce, third basemen Gavin Gunderson and second baseman Travis Roth. Also back for the North Stars this season is pitcher Dan Miller and infielder Chance Pitkanen.
“Those guys have now been with me for three years, some even longer,” Wirtzberger said. “They have bought into what we’re doing. They are working hard every day in practice and they all bring a great attitude to this team. Plus, I’m blessed with great assistant coaches, and those guys have bought in to our entire staff. So with that group, and with our coaching staff, we have a really solid foundation.”
But Havre also has a good youth movement going as three newcomers to the club will all be expected to play key roles this summer.
Dylan Carpenter, who will pitch and play outfield, Jeff Miller, who will play shortstop and pitch, and Jake Sedahl, who will handle most of the catching duties, all bring talent and baseball experience to the Legion program.
“Our new guys, they are all really good ball players,” Wirtzberger said. “It’s exciting to have them up with us this season. I really do expect big things from those guys right away.”
As excited as Wirtzberger is about his club, and to start a new season, he also knows his team must develop, and blossom as the season goes on, especially if it wants to compete in the always difficult Northern A District. Wirtzberger said that perennial Northern A powers Fort MacLeod and Vauxhall will be heavy favorites again this season, but overall, the league will be as tough as ever.
“I expect Fort MacLeod and Vauxhall to be really good, they both bring back a lot of really good players,” Wirtzberger said. “And with Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and the (Great Falls) Electrics, you just don’t know until you see them, because those are all feeder programs for AA clubs. So it’s hard to predict what they’ll be like. But I do know those teams are always fundamentally solid and they’re really well coached, so they’ll be tough, too, I’m sure.”
So with so many tough teams in the Northern A, what does Havre have to do to compete for a coveted birth in the state tournament? According to Wirtzberger, who is also the head coach of the Havre High girls fastpitch softball team, the North Stars will need to hit and play sound defense.
“We have to hit the ball,” Wirtzberger said. “With the exception of Tyrell Pierce, we’re not really going to shut teams completely down with our pitching. And our league is a league that always has young pitching and good hitting. So we need to be a good hitting club, and we’ll need to score runs. And then we have to play defense behind our pitching. Good offense and good defense, those are the things that will help us be successful.”
And despite a rigorous schedule of nonconference and conference games, one that begins this Sunday in Lewistown, Wirtzberger feels like his team has a chance to be very successful by summer’s end. He says the attitude is right and the talent is there, and if the team develops throughout the season, the North Stars could very well be right in the thick of the Northern District race and have a chance to advance past the Northern A tournament for the first time in quite some time.
“We haven’t had a winning season the last two years,” Wirtzberger said. “We have had some really big wins, but overall, we’ve finished near the bottom of the district. These kids want to change that. They have come into the season with a great attitude and they want to win now. It’s pretty awesome to be around that. So I’m really excited for this season, and to see what this team can do.”
The North Stars kick off their season Sunday with a doubleheader against the Lewistown Redbirds in Lewistown. Havre opens its home schedule with a pair of games against the Great Falls Electrics Wednesday night.
2014 North Stars Baseball Schedule
May 11 at Lewistown
May 14 vs Great Falls Electrics
May 18 vs Glasgow
June 1 vs Medicine Hat
June 3 vs Great Falls Volts
June 6-8 Havre Jamboree
June 9 at Glasgow
June 12 vs Tri-County
June 17 at Tri-County
June 18 at Great Falls Electrics
June 20-22 at Deer Lodge Tournament
June 23 vs Missoula Prospects
June 24 v s Missoula Prospects
June 26 vs Great Falls Volts
June 30 at Tri-County
July 1 at Fort MacLeod
July 2 at Lethbridge
July 6 vs Lethbridge
July 9 vs Vauxhall
July 10 at Fort MacLeod
Jul 15 at Vauxhall
July 16 at Medicine Hat
July 18 at Glacier Twins
July 19 at Glacier Twins
July 23-27 Northern A Districts
At Fort MacLeod.