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North Stars came together for a great summer

The Havre North Stars American Legion baseball program is still climbing its way to the top of the ranks. The program has been hobbled in recent years, but took several big steps forward again this year.

Finishing the 2012 season with a .500 record, the North Stars were on the verge of a breakout season. They finished 22-22, but failed to make it out of the Northern A district tournament, possibly the toughest district in the state.

Havre's main goal was to make the state tournament this season. But this season's road was as tough as ever, as the conference

Havre's Ned Malone was one of many key young players who helped the North Stars flourish on the diamond this summer.

rival Great Falls Electrics are hosting the state tournament this year, and received and automatic. That meant that the Northern A could place just one more team into state, a tough task with top tier teams like Medicine Hat, Fort MacLeod and Vauxhall also in the conference mix. Fort MacLeod went on to win the district title this year and captured the only state slot up for grabs.

But despite the shortened post season run, Havre went 1-2 at the district tournament, the North Stars did a lot of good things this season.

The North Stars proved they were a top contender in the district with a lot of impressive wins. Havre actually beat every conference team at least once this season, and held the No. 1 spot for several weeks at the start of the season. Havre also hovered around the top two or three spots all season long, before a handful of late season splits gave the North Stars a No. 4 seed heading in to the post season.

Veteran players Brandon Smith, Justin Jensen, Mark Vukasin and Gareth Bernard carried the majority of the load this season, but will be great missed next season. Smith dominated the competition from the mound this year, as well as had a good year at short stop. Jensen was the other ace for Havre, but also helped lead the defense from second base the majority of his time in the field. Vukasin's third base play was huge this season, as was Bernard's play as the veteran catcher. Vukasin and Bernard also saw their share of time on the mound.

But the veteran group also carried the majority of the load from the offensive standpoint, as they all hit the ball very well at times this season.

However, none of the four key contributors will be returning next season, meaning the North Stars are going to have to lean on some new and young talent next season if they hope to keep on the rise. Thurman Holdsclaw should be the leader next season, as he showed great signs of dominance, including hitting for the cycle at the district tournament. But Spencer Ross, David Denny and Chris Vukasin are also going to have to step up, as are youngsters like Ned Malone, Dane Linquist and Tyrell Pierce.

Playing chunks of the season with inconsistencies was a factor this year.

Havre recorded impressive wins like an 8-6 victory over the Electrics, but would turnaround and suffer disappointing losses lake the 17-9 loss to the Electrics soon after. This happened several times this season, with the North Stars handling a team in one game, but dropping the nightcap for a two game split, instead of the two game sweep.

Pithing depth was a weakness for the North Stars this season, but that issue could be addressed by next summer. But if the pitching isn't there, the North Stars will have to show more consistency on offense and defense if they hope to remain competitive and keep moving forward.

In the end, the North Stars showed signs of being a very good baseball club. They had impressive victories and tough, tough losses. The North Stars hit for a high team average and their starting pitching was very reliable. And all of those things made for a great summer at Legion Field and beyond.

However, success isn't always defined by wins and losses and first-year head coach Dan Wirtzberger summed that up pretty well before his team went to the district tourney last weekend in Medicine Hat.

"We won't define this season by how we do at districts," Wirtzberger said. "I think this team is already very successful What I really like is how they came together as a team. They really bonded together and have had great chemistry. And they all love the game and play it the way it should be played. I'm very proud of them for that."

 

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