By Bruce Sayler
The venue, 3 Legends Stadium, might never have been a more welcome sight, or site, than it was on Friday afternoon.
A truly spring day, an introduction, if you will, to the fleeting Butte season, produced 60ish-degree temperatures and a good look at a strong Butte High baseball lineup, the school’s first venture at home in the sport.
The 13-0 victory furthered the applause and crowned pitcher Ethan “Easy” Cunningham at least prince of the town for a day. He overpowered a young Lone Peak lineup with a wicked fast ball and sharp curve, keeping the Bighorns off-balance and in awe. Cunningham was perfect through four innings while his teammates’ offense presented him with a 13-0 command.
Lone Peak, though, a growing Class C school community based in Ophir, a gateway to Big Sky Resort residency, was determined not to be no-hitter victim No. 1 or radically early in Montana’s dive into high school baseball. Oliver McGuire and Max Romney touched Cunningham for singles to start the fifth inning. McGuire’s dropped into center field and Romney’s slashed into left. The perfect game and the no-hitter were both over. The shutout, though, was intact and Cunningham, a striker-outer of seven in a row at one stretch, won it with the Bulldogs on the 10-run difference rule.
After the Bighorn singles, Cunningham whiffed Keelan Grupe and retired Geno DiTullio and Colter Marino on called strikes to end the game. It was a five-inning two-hitter with the senior right-hander piling up a dozen strikeouts and not walking a batter.
“It’s awesome to be outside, we couldn’t have picked a better day,” Butte High head coach Jim LeProwse said moments before revealing the Bulldogs had practiced in the ballpark the day before, their first go at drills beyond indoor walls this season, other than pregame exercises for those preceding road games.
Friday’s game was Butte High’s home debut, all-time.
“Ethan is just a fantastic pitcher,” said LeProwse, one of the few individuals who calls the pitcher by his given name instead of the “Easy” nickname. “He’d be a good pickup for a college looking for guys who just can throw strikes.
“Ethan does a best job of spotting his fastball and his curveball and has a great split-finger, too. He has great command of all his pitches.”
He did Friday.
Cunningham support came from a bunch. Butte High belted eight hits in four innings, not having to bat in the fifth. Senior designated hitter Zach Tierney drove in four runs with three hits to lead the potent attack that also included three runs batted in by freshman shortstop Cayde Stajcar. Junior right fielder Zach O’Connell and junior third baseman Derek Dunmire knocked in two apiece. Dunmire paid painfully for his presence in the batter’s box, being hit twice by pitches from Romney.The now-bruised Bulldogs incurred four hit batsmen as Romney tried to break his sweeping curveball across the inside of the plate. Bighorn pitchers are being schooled this year by co-head coach and former longtime St. Louis Cardinal mound standout Matt Morris and good results can be expected.
Lone Peak’s Aidan Germain was the first batter in a high school baseball game played in Butte and Cunningham set the stage by striking him out. Cunningham got Brady Johnson and Eberhardt Grabow on groundouts in a one-two-three half inning to get his Bulldog teammates to the plate.
Butte High leadoff hitter Sean Ossello, one of several of LeProwse’s veterans from last summer’s Butte Miners American Legion baseball district, state and regional Class A championship team on the Bulldog team, bunted for a single. Stajcar chased him home with a triple to left field and, an out later, scored on a double into the left-center alley by Tierney. A walk to Alex Jorgensen and hitting Gavin Trudgeon with a pitch loaded the bases. Dunmire took one for the team and Tierney strolled home. Romney got a strikeout to strand three Butte High runners after the Bulldogs had gained a 3-0 lead.
Cunningham struck out McGuire, Romney and Grupe in succession in the top of the second before Butte High tallied a run in the bottom half. Anthony Knott reached on a two-out error, stole second base and ran home on a Tierney base hit to center field.
Butte High played errorless ball on defense, but got through the top of the third again without seeing a ball hit fair. Cunningham fanned three in a row and the Bulldogs came to the plate to unleash a four-run outburst for an 8-0 command.
Trudgeon led off a walk, stole second and third bases and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dunmire. Tyler Duffy singled to center. After the second out, Stajcar drove in Mason Armstrong, running for Duffy, with a single to left. Stajcar stole second and raced home when Knott got all the way to second on an error. Tierney then singled Knott home.
Cunningham whiffed Germain to start the fourth, but Johnson grounded out, ending Cunningham’s string of seven strikeouts. Cunningham was quickly back on track. He fanned Grabow to end the frame.
The Bulldogs applied the clincher with a five-run explosion in the last of the fourth. Kaden McGillan reached on an error to light the fuse. Dunmire was hit by a pitch after an out, and McGillan then dashed home on a wild pitch with Armstrong batting. Armstrong was hit by a pitch and Ossello walked to fill the bags. Stajcar’s flyball was dropped in the outfield, letting Dunmire score and giving Stajcar a sac fly on the error. It kept the sacks packed, too. After a strikeout, Tierney was walked, forcing in a run. Then, O’Connell’s slow roller to the right side evaded Bighorns well and long enough to allow him to reach first base and speedsters Ossello and Stajcar to cross the plate. A strikeout ended the inning.
Butte High improved its record to 6-1 with the win and will next play on Tuesday in a doubleheader at 3 Legends Stadium against crosstown rival Butte Central for the city championship. It is set for a 4 p.m. first pitch.
Lone Peak, which starts four freshmen, is hunting its first win after six losses to launch the progam.
Lone Peak 000 000 0 — 0 2 5
Butte High 314 5xx x – 13 8 0
Max Romney and Eberhardt Grabow. Ethan Cunningham and Tyler Duffy. W – Cunningham. L – Duffy.
LONE PEAK (0-6) – Aidan Germain 0-2, Brady Johnson 0-2, Eberhardt Grabow 0-2, Oliver McGuire 1-2, Max Romney 1-2, Keelan Grupe 0-2, Geno DiTullio 0-2, Colton Marino 0-2, Gus Hammond 0-1.
BUTTE HIGH (6-1) – Sean Ossello 1-3, Cayde Stajcar 2-3, Anthony Knott 0-3, Jimmy Blow 0-1, Zach Tierney 3-3, Zach O’Connell 1-3, Alex Jorgensen 0-1, Kaden McGillan 0-2, Gavin Trudgeon 0-0, Aidan Cuchine 0-1, Derek Dunmire 0-0, Tyler Duffy 1-2, Mason Armstrong 0-0.
Extra-base hits – 2B – Tierney. 3B – Stajcar.
Runs batted in – Lone Peak 0, Butte High 11 (Tierney 4, Stajcar 3, O’Connell 2, Dunmire 2).