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Northstars head into districts as No. 1 seed

After several months of hard work, the postseason has finally arrived for the Havre Northstars American Legion baseball club. Starting this Thursday, the Northstars will compete in the Class A North District Tournament in Vauxhall. As the Northstars start the postseason, Havre head coach Patch Wirtzberger looks forward to seeing how the Northstars do this weekend.

"It's exciting," Wirtzberger said. "I think we're prepared but anything can happen up there so you have to be ready for every single game and I think we're going to be up to the challenge."

The Northstars are hot heading into the tournament as they finished the regular season with an overall record 39-16-1. By going 25-3 in conference play, the Northstars earned the No. 1 seed in this weekend's tournament.

With their No. 1 seed, the Northstars will begin the tournament Thursday at 1 p.m. when they play the No. 8 seed Fort Macleod Royals. The Royals went 5-31 this season with a 3-25 conference record to earn the No. 8 seed.

During the regular season, the Northstars dominated against the Royals. On the road in June, the Northstars swept the Royals by scores of 15-1 and 17-4. Then at Legion Field earlier this month, the Northstars again earned a sweep with wins of 13-3 and 13-0. But with this game being in the postseason, Wirtzberger does not want the Northstars to rest on their laurels.

"In tournament play, you just never know. In a seven-inning baseball game, a lot can happen," Wirtzberger said. "It's not a lot of time to recover from a slow start so what I'd like to see is us to be focused from the first pitch in the first inning and get right on them and show that we're ready to go."

If the Northstars win, they will face either the Lewistown Redbirds or the Great Falls Chargers in the next round. The Redbirds and Chargers will face each other at 10 a.m. Thursday to start the tournament. The Redbirds earned the No. 4 seed after going 26-33 during the season and going 17-11 in conference play. During the season, the Northstars went 5-0 against the Redbirds.

The Great Falls Chargers earned the No. 5 seed after going 14-41 during the season and going 10-18 in conference play. The Northstars have played well against the Chargers this season as they went 4-0 in their meetings over the summer.

The tournament will continue Thursday at 4 p.m. with a game between the Lethbridge Miners and Medicine Hat Knights. The Miners should be one of the favorites in the tournament as the No. 2 seed. During the season, the Miners went 34-8 overall and went 22-4 in conference play. The Northstars did have their struggles against Lethbridge as they went 1-3 against the Miners this summer.

"Lethbridge has beaten us three times this year so they present a great challenge," Wirtzberger said. "They play sound defensively, their pitchers throw strikes, they've got a lot of different pitches and they hit the ball."

The Knights head into the tournament as the No. 7 seed after going 21-29 overall and going 7-21 in conference play. They would be a favorable matchup for the Northstars as Havre went 4-0 against the Knights during the regular season.

Thursday will wrap up at 7 p.m. with a game between the Vauxhall Spurs and the Tri County Cardinals. The Spurs will be the No. 3 seed with a 16-8 conference record and overall record of 19-11. Havre went 4-0 against the Spurs this summer.

The Cardinals head into the tournament as the No. 6 seed after going 8-20 in conference play and finishing the regular season with an overall record of 11-21. The Northstars had success against them with a 4-0 record against the Cardinals in the regular season. Looking at the competition this weekend, Wirtzberger believes Lethbridge, Vauxhall and Lewistown should be playing well into the weekend.

"Vauxhall is a good team. We've had success against them and Lewistown has been playing really well as of late," Wirtzberger said. "So there's a lot of good teams in this field and a lot of good coaching in this district so I feel like every team is playing their best baseball right now so it should be a fun weekend."

The double-elimination tournament will continue through the weekend to Sunday. The championship game will be held Sunday at 1 p.m. If the Northstars want to make it that far, their best players will need to start the postseason strong.

The Northstars have several reliable pitchers in their rotation that can lead them to success this week. Terek Shipp leads the Northstars with 54.2 innings pitched this season where he has a 5-4 record, 50 strikeouts and a 2.433 ERA. Kale Reno will look to do well on the mound this weekend as he has a 6-3 record and 41 strikeouts this season.

The Northstars will also look to get going at the plate this weekend. Conner McKay leads Havre with a .391 batting average while also recording 35 RBIs this season. Ezra Pyle will look to produce at the plate where he has a .370 batting average and 36 RBIs. Drake Berreth should also make an impact as he has a .358 batting average and 40 RBIs this season.

The Northstars have been playing some of their best ball late in the season. In their last 26 games, the Northstars have gone 23-3 thanks to explosive offense and reliable defense. If they want to stay hot this weekend, Wirtzberger believes defense will be paramount.

"We need our pitchers to stay focused and stay ready. They've been keeping us in a lot of ball games," Wirtzberger said. "The defense has been great, as well, so hopefully, we can keep that up. But if we can find a way to push some runs across, I think we'll do really well in this tournament."

The Havre Northstars will begin the Class A North District Tournament in Vauxhall Thursday at 1 p.m. with a game against the Fort Macleod Royals.


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