Butte 13-14 All-Stars rule, tip Laurel for 4th straight state title

By Bruce Sayler
(corrected version)
Nobody was going to give up in this tournament. Somebody was going to have to win it. Butte did.
Butte scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the score and send the championship game to an extra inning – where Butte defeated Laurel 9-8 in the eighth.
Laurel had gained the Sunday title game berth opposite Butte with its own fierce rally, down 10-1 and its first two batters out in the last of the seventh, Laurel paraded 10 straight runs across the plate to unravel and eliminate Shepherd/Lockwood 11-10 Saturday night.
Dillon was the first one gone from the four-team field with two losses by a total of four runs and then Lockwood/Shepherd competed hard against all of it opponents before having probable victory snatched away by Laurel Saturday night.
Calvin Cunningham’s looping single to left field in the bottom of the eighth inning knocked home Tegan Duffy with the winning run, making the Butte All-Stars the Montana Little League Junior Division state champions for the fourth consecutive time – joining the title teams of 2022, 2021 and 2019. The 2020 tournament went unplayed because of Covid-related restrictions.
Laurel mounted first threat in extras with a leadoff single by Ryan Berube to lead off the eighth. He continued to second base on an outfield error. An out later, Mason Wilson singled. However, Butte reliever Bryson Hibbert got the next two batters on an infield popup and strikeout to bring Butte to the plate.
Duffy floated a base hit over shortstop to lead off the inning before Kodye Kjersten whacked a bouncer to the left side that glanced off a fielder’s glove, sending Duffy to second base. Duffy then scored on Cunningham’s fading base hit that barely eluded a shoe-top catch by fast-charging Aiden Seymour.
“It was a fastball a little bit high and in,” Cunningham, who had the kind of tournament that inspires folklore, said. “I’d been in a slump, but there was something about playing in a larger field that (enthused him).”
If he was in a slump, Cunningham was probably the only one who thought it. He went 4-for-4 with four runs batted in against Laurel in their Saturday semifinal game, won by Butte 15-8. He also pitched the first three innings of that game, then came back Sunday to throw six innings, strike out nine batters and drive in the winning run.
“Calvin had a great tournament,” head coach Mike Duffy confirmed.
The big field Cunningham alluded to was Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium in Butte’s Copper Mountain Sports Park, which was the venue for the three-day state tournament. The Little League juniors, for those of ages 13-14, usually play at the smaller youth ball fields. Butte welcomed the tourney to its baseball palace for the weekend. Cunningham said he is acquainted with the field through watching his older brother, Ethan, star for the Butte Miners American Legion defending district, state and regional Class A champions.
The Butte All-Stars win Sunday puts them in the field for the Western Regional Junior Tournament August 2-10 in Bend, Oregon. Duffy said the Butte team went 0-2 at regionals last year but competed well and returnees Duffy and Cunningham gained valuable experience.
Cunningham said that, somehow, Butte’s players knew they would win even when in the deep hole against Laurel late in the game. A Laurel win would have forced an immediately ensuing championship playoff game in the true double-elimination format.
“I trusted my team to come through on the field and I trusted my team to swing the bats,” Cunningham said. “It came out perfectly for us.”
Butte had set up its own troubles with a messy sixth inning.
“We had a bad inning in the field and I had a bad inning pitching,” Cunningham said. “But, we came right back.”
The coach concurred.
“The sixth inning was our worst and the seventh was one of our best,” Mike Duffy said. “The kids didn’t hang their heads (about the sixth inning). (Laurel) didn’t really take anything away from us. We gave it to them.
“The Laurel pitcher (Mason Wilson) pitched a great game, but we knew if we worked him through his pitch count, then we could get some hits.”
Wilson reached his limit after the sixth.
Laurel broke a 4-all tie with a three-run sixth inning. Tavarius Hall was hit by a pitch and then Berube drew a walk. After a strikeout, Butte missed the chance to end the inning on a double play. First baseman Bryson Hibbert fielded a ground ball near the bag, stepped on the base and tossed to second. However, the force at first took the force play off second and no tag was attempted, leaving Berube safe in scoring position with two out. Cael Eastlick walked while Hall dashed home on a wild pitch. Carpenter then stroked a two-run single to left field.
Wilson stifled Butte in the bottom of the sixth and then his Laurel teammates scored once more in the seventh for an 8-4 bulge in the last inning of regulation. Preston Dennett was safe for an infield hit with one out. A missed throw allowed Grant Hutzenbieler to get on base and moved Dennett to third base. Dennett scored on a balk.
Butte faced urgency coming to bat in the bottom of the seventh and behind by 8-4. Colten Van Kuiken had replaced Wilson on the mound. He hit Hibbert with a pitch and gave up a run-scoring double to Tucker Kissell. Noah Powers was then hit by a pitch and Camden Ingraham worked a walk to load the bases.
Hall took over on the mound for Laurel. David Honer hit into a fielder’s choice that put Kissell out at the plate and kept the bags filled with one out. Hugh O’Brien singled to center to drive in Powers and keeps the sacks packed. An out later, Miles Choquette’s groundball was misplayed and both Ingraham and Honer scored as the ball skipped into left field. Honer’s run tied the score at 8-all before Treigh Hollow was out on a running catch into the outfield by Carpenter.
It summoned the eighth inning, where Butte was able to outlast the tough Laurel entry.
Laurel had led most of the game. It took a 2-0 first-inning edge on three hits, including a double by Wilson, and two Butte errors. Butte caught up with two runs on the fourth while Cunningham held Laurel at bay. Hollow started the Butte half of the inning with a single to left and stole second base. Kjersten singled up the middle after an out. Hollow sprinted home on a wild pitch and Kjersten reached second base, then third on a groundout. A balk charged Wilson sent Kjersten home.
The teams scored two runs each in the fifth inning to forge the 4-all tie. Dennett smoked a worm-burner triple down the right-field line to tally Holman who had been hit by a pitch. Van Kuiken’s two-out bouncer to first base scored Dennett. Butte’s answer began with a walk to Powers. An error added Ingraham to the basepaths. Honer singled to load the bases and then O’Brien singled to left, driving in Powers while Ingraham followed him home on an errant throw.
“It’s a testament to Butte baseball,” coach Duffy said about the program’s string of state championships. “What the two Little Leagues, Mile High and Northwest, do for getting the kids excited for their season is great. A lot of cities don’t have that.”
Duffy, also the Mile High Little League president, credited Little League administrator Keith Miller and Northwest president Josh Bush, for aiding in the program success.
Laurel 200 023 10 – 8 7 3
Butte 000 220 41 – 9 10 6
Mason Wilson, Colten Van Kuiken (7), Tavarius Hall (7) and Cael Eastlick. Calvin Cunningham, Bryson Hibbert (7) and Tegan Duffy. W – Hibbert. L – Hall.
LAUREL – Ryan Berube 1-3, Kale Hunter 0-4, Mason Wilson 2-4, Cael Eastlick 1-3, Jack Carpenter 1-4, Joel Holman 0-2, Aiden Seymour 0-3, Preston Dennett 2-3, Grant Huntzenbieler 0-2, Colten Van Kuiken 0-2, Kason Lamphear 0-3, Tavarius Hall 0-2.
BUTTE – Treigh Hollow 1-3, Tegan Duffy 1-4, Kodye Kjersten 1-3, Calvin Cunningham 1-3, Bryson Hibbert 1-2, Tucker Kissell 1-3, Noah Powers 0-1, Camden Ingraham 1-2, David Honer 1-3, Hugh O’Brien 2-3, Sawyer Casey 0-3, Miles Choquette 0-3.
Extra-base hits – 2B – Wilson, Kissell. 3B – Dennett.
Runs batted in – Laurel 5 (Carpenter 2, Wilson 1, Dennett 1, Van Kuiken 1), Butte 4 (O’Brien 2, Cunningham 1, Kissell 1).