One bad inning hurts Northstars in games
If baseball games were only six innings, the Havre Northstars could easily be 4-0 on the season. However, in American Legion baseball most games are played for seven innings, and it was that one extra inning that plagued the Northstars this weekend as they were swept in a pair of doubleheaders by the Kalispell Lakers at Legion Park.
In each of the four games this weekend, the Northstars were either leading or within striking distance of the visiting Lakers. But in each game, Havre had one inning in which fielding errors combined with mental mistakes to allow Kalispell to take control of the games' outcomes.
"We lost four games because of four innings," said Northstar head coach Mickey Williams. "We had one bad inning in each game that hurt us. We had some good moments, but we have to play seven good innings instead of six."
Indeed, in the season opener on Saturday, the Northstars grabbed an early lead thanks to a two-run homerun by Cory Junck in the first inning and rode the solid pitching of Brandon Morse for the first five innings. But the Lakers picked up a run in the fifth and two in the sixth to take a brief 3-2 lead. The Northstars rallied as Patch Wirtzberger led off with a single and was replaced by Steve Heberly, who subsequently scored on a Junck single to tie the game at three. Chaz Hurlburt knocked Junck in with another single to take a 4-3 lead.
But Havre fell apart in the seventh inning as Morse hit Steve Franklin to open the inning. A pair of booted ground balls, another hit batsman and another fielding error led to four Kalispell runs and a 7-4 lead. The Northstars managed only one run in their final at-bat.
Justin LaCroix picked up the win for the Lakers while Morse took the loss despite giving up only four earned runs on seven hits and striking out five.
Junck led Havre going 3-3 with a homerun and three RBIs while Wirtzberger was 2-2 with two runs scored.
The first game was a preview of things to come.
In Saturday's nightcap, Kalispell exploded for eight runs in the first three innings aided by six hits and five wild pitches from pitchers Chaz Hurlburt and Ian Spencer.
It was a deficit too big for the Northstars to overcome as Ben Mathiason and Craig Olsen combined to limit Havre to one run on two hits while striking out seven batters.
Heberly and Tyler Thompson collected Havre's only hits in the game.
It was more of the same on Sunday for the Northstars. Havre grabbed an early 1-0 lead on the Lakers. But in the fourth inning, pitcher Tyler Thompson allowed a lead-off walk to Jesse Roehl, who later scored on an RBI double from Steve Franklin. A mix-up concerning a play at home would also prove costly as Kalispell scored four runs in the inning on four hits and a pair of Northstar errors. The Lakers tacked on another run in the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead.
Havre answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth as Spencer and Tyson Roe picked up RBI singles scoring Junck and Solomon to close the gap to 5-4. Kalispell added some breathing room, getting another run in the sixth as LaCroix opened the inning with a lead-off walk and later scored on a Heberly wild pitch. The run would prove critical as the Northstars scored a run in the seventh on an RBI single from Spencer. But Roehl closed the door, striking out Wirtzberger and getting Roe to ground out to end the game.
Franklin picked up the win and Roehl got the save for Kalispell while Thompson took the loss. Spencer led the Northstar hitters with a pair of hits and an RBI.
In Sunday's nightcap, the Northstars held a 2-1 lead until the fifth inning. Kalispell scored eight runs in the top of the fifth on just three hits. The Lakers got a little help in the form of four Northstar errors, three wild pitches and three hit batsmen in the inning. Kalispell used a different pitcher in the remaining three innings to shut down Havre's bats.
Sean Jones picked up the win while Junck took the loss. Roe and Normandy each led the Northstar hitters, going 2-3, while Normandy also had a pair of RBIs.
Although Williams knew this weekend's games would be tough, he was surprised at being 0-4 to start the season.
"I probably expected a little more from them than I should of," he said. "It's still pretty early in the season. The physical errors are going to happen because it's early, but the mental mistakes shouldn't happen. We're not mentally in shape. It's tough with having kids competing in track and tennis the same day. Still, we need better game savvy. Most of our kids played around 100 games in their Legion career."
Williams found some real positives from the weekend - in particular his team's pitching and the play of the Comet players he called up for the games.
"I thought our pitching as a whole was pretty good this weekend," he said. "The Comet players came in and helped us. Patch and Trent really played well this weekend. I knew our hitting would be behind. We played like we've had only a few practices this season, which we have."
The Northstars are on a fairly long break from game competition, until the first week in May. The Comets will be in action April 26-27 at a tournament in Eureka.