By Bruce Sayler
Butte baseball history is seemingly the destined role for Mining City Jim LeProwse.
Only months after coaching the Butte Miners to rare state and regional American Legion baseball championships, LeProwse is at the helm of fielding the Butte High Bulldogs’ first high school baseall team.
“I’m excited to be the first one ever to do this,” LeProwse said on Monday and talking about being Butte High’s first baseball coach with Montana’s first high school baseball season about to begin – weather permitting.
In his first season guiding the Miners he coached the Butte entry to the state Class A and Northwest A regional championships. He is a longtime youth coach, having moved back to Butte last year after a successful championship-laden tenure as the head girls’ softball coach at Dawson Community College in Glendive.
Prior to the move to Glendive, LeProwse coached a Montana Tech women’s softball club team that competed collegiately and had coached in the Little League, Babe Ruth League and American Legion baseball ranks in varying roles and duties.
“I’m excited to get going,” he said. “If we could get rid of this snow, we could get outside. Practices have been really good.”
Practices have also been inside all two weeks of the preseason so far. An indoor facility located behind St. Ann’s church has been the venue, one renovated to fit two batting cages and three pitching mounds, LeProwse said. So, for now, until dirt can be uncovered on a Copper Mountain Park diamond, the Bulldogs are a dome team.
Home games are to be played at 3 Legends Stadium in the Copper Mountain Complex, beginning with a March 30 opener against Belgrade, now looking shaky at best because of the extended winter weather hanging on in Butte. LeProwse said another ballfield at the park could be used, if needed, for games and practices due to it having more sun exposure and possibly being readied quicker if 3 Legends Stadium is not ready to go in the early season.
Belgrade is the only other Class AA school fielding a baseball team this inaugural season, so all teams with entries, no matter the enrollment sizes, will be placed in one statewide conference. Two of Butte High’s games will be against crosstown rival Butte Central.
With several members of the championship Miners team dotting Butte High’s first baseball roster, LeProwse is anxious to put the first Bulldogs team on the field for a game.
“The team is looking like it is going to be a really good club,” LeProwse said. “I think we’ll be really competitive with lot of depth on the mound and some guys who can swing (the bat).”
The pitching includes Miners veterans Cayde Stajcar, Ethan Cunningham, Trey Hansen and Butte Muckers ace Gavin Trudgeon. LeProwse said Cunningham reached 87 mph on the radar gun in a recent session and Hansen has been throwing 82 to 83 mph. Gustafson and Trudgeon touch 80.
The 34 prospects in camp are being divided in half between varsity and junior varsity rosters.
“Some really good eighth-graders came out and tried out, but I decided to just go with high school kids on the roster this year,” the coach said. “There are some good seventh-graders playing baseball, too, and I plan to work with younger kids and their coaches in their seasons and, hopefully, build a good program.”
Butte will also break in the state baseball tournament as it is scheduled for May 18-20 at 3 Legends Stadium.
The Bulldog team will be without catcher Quinn Cox for much of the season while he recovers from ACL surgery of last summer, LeProwse said. Tyler Duffy and Derek Dunmire will both see time behind the plate until Cox is ready to go, LeProwse said.
Starting candidates in the outfield are Anthony Knott, Sean Ossello, Kevin Donaldson, Trudgeon and Hansen. Leading infielders include Dunmire, Stajcar, Cunningham, Alex Jorgensen, Hansen, Duffy and Zach O’Connell.
LeProwse said senior slugger Zach Tierney is recovering from a shoulder injury that wiped out his chances at a state wrestling crown and will be the team’s designated hitter. Juniors Caden McGillen, Nathan Armstrong, Aiden Cuchine and senior Jim Blow are others competing strongly for diamond time, the coach said.
Stajcar is a freshman standout while the rest of the lineup will be filled mostly by juniors and seniors.
Luke Stajcar, Shane Jorgensen and Zane German make up LeProwse’s staff of assistants. Luke Stajcar is a veteran baseball and softball coach for Butte youth and high school teams and was a standout player at the American Legion and collegiate levels himself. Cayde Stajcar is his son. Jorgensen coached Americna Legion baseball in Anaconda where he was a top player in his prep days. He is also the Butte High head girls’ volleyball coach. German is a newcomer to Butte who was a good college baseball player, including two years at Dawson.
The schedule, subject to change any time, follows:
30 – Belgrade, 3 p.m.
1—at Lone Peak, 1 p.m. 3 – at Butte Central, 1 p.m. 7 – at Columbus, 1 p.m. 13 – at Whitefish, 4 p.m. 15 – Sidney, noon. 18 – at Dillon, 3 p.m. 21 – at Sidney, 5 p.m. 22 – North Dakota team TBA in Sidney, TBD. 24 – at Belgrade, 5 p.m. 26 – East Helena, 1 p.m. 28 – Lone Peak, 3 p.m.
2 – Butte Central, 4 p.m. 5 – Columbus, 3 p.m. 9 – at East Helena, noon. 12 – Dillon, 1 p.m. 18-20 – State Tournament in Butte.