Florence walk-off nips Butte High in State opener

By Bruce Sayler

The first game in the history of the Montana state high school baseball tournament ended in exciting fashion — a walkoff winning run in an extra inning.
Florence edged Butte High 6-5 as Isaac Bates bounced a hit off the mitt of lunging Butte High first baseman Cayde Stajcar while Brodie Hinsdale raced home from third base, beating Stajcar’s throw to the plate with none out in the bottom of the eighth inning. Hinsdale had walked to lead off the last of the eighth, stole second base and took third on a passed ball. Stajcar had knocked the line drive down, keeping it in the infield before recovering it for the throw.
Florence will play Polson at 9:30 a.m. on Friday in a semifinal at 3 Legends Stadium and the Bulldogs will play a noon loser-out game against Eureka on Copper Mountain Field 4, across the lawn from the main ballpark. The winner will play in another loser-out at 5 p.m.
The seat-clutcher opened the tournament being played at Butte’s 3 Legends Stadium in Copper Mountain Sports and Recreation Park through Saturday.
The belt deflated a Butte High comeback that saw the Bulldogs rally to tie the score 5-all in the top of the seventh inning. Florence had built leads of 3-1 and 5-2 before Butte High, which had struggled moving runners and playing defense much of the game, caught the Falcons.
Mason Armstrong drew a one-out walk and stole second base to start the rally with Butte High trailing 5-4. Sean Ossello singled up the middle and Falcon standout Patrick Duchien fired a strike from center field all the way in to catcher Jake Roth for the tagout on Armstrong, denying the run, for the moment.
With two outs, Anthony Knott and Stajcar clubbed consecutive doubles – Knott’s tracing the third baseline to the fence and Stajcar’s traveling the gap in right-center. Ossello scored on Knott’s rip and Knott knotted the score on Stajcar’s smash.
Big slugger Zach Tierney strode to the plate as the Butte High crowd amped up its cheering noise. The speedy, athletic Stajcar stood on second base poised to score the go-ahead run should Tierney connect with a Trapper Osler pitch. Falcons coach Pat Duchien abruptly took the bat out of Tierney’s hands. He ordered an intentional walk of the home run threat. Tierney bounced his bat to the ground in frustration and strolled to first base.
Bulldog pitcher Ethan “Easy” Cunningham came to the plate and turned on an Osler fastball. He plastered it to the left side, but Florence third baseman Drew Wagner flagged down the hot hopper and threw Cunningham out at first base to end the inning.
“We need to be mentally tough to overcome things and we weren’t today,” Butte High head coach Jim LeProwse said. “(The Falcons) a very well-coached. Their coaches have a great control of that program and compete very well.”
The Bulldogs held Florence scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, but not with ease. Gabe Philbrick laced a single to center field before Wagner flied out to Zach O’Connell in left. Osler then reached on a bunt single. Mason Arlington popped up to foul territory and Knott, playing third base, snagged it near the fence. Gavin Trudgeon relieved Cunningham, who had reached his pitch limit. Tyler Abbott then grounded out to Derek Dunmire at shortstop, sending the game to the eighth inning.
Duchien relieved for Florence and struck out the Bulldogs in order, taking the game to the bottom of the eighth.
“I’m proud of the guys for battling back,” LeProwse said. “We put ourselves in that hole by making defensive mistakes. Some things happed today to us that don’t normally happen.
“It seems we don’t respond very well to mistakes we make. It comes with experience.”
Butte High scored the first run when, with two out, Stajcar beat out an infield hit and sped all the way around the bases as Florence committed two throwing errors trying to catch up to him.
The Falcons, though, got the run back in their half as Hinsdale was safe on an error, stole second base, took third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly by Duchein, a Montana Western football signee.
Arlington doubled to lead off the second for Florence, advanced on a groundout and on a Hinsdale single. Hinsdale walked off first base and drew Butte High’s throws and attention long enough for Arlington to run home. Philbrick, the Falcons’ starting pitcher, retired seven straight Bulldogs to get to the bottom of the third inning where he tripled then trotted home on a triple to center field by Wagner.
The Florence lead was 3-1. Butte High tightened it a run in the fourth. Stajcar walked and took second on an errant pickoff try. He took third on a groundout. Cunningham was hit by a pitch. He tried to steal second and was out while Stajcar dashed home from third.
In the Florence fourth, Hinsdale singled to right with one out and stole second base. An out later, he scored on an error as Duchien got to second base. He took third on a wild pitch and Roth drove him in with a base hit to left. The Falcons had their 5-3 lead.
The Bulldogs loaded the bases on three walks in the top of the fifth. Stajcar tapped a slow roller in front of the plate and burned down the baseline for an infield hit while Alex Jorgensen scored from third base. The bags were filled and Tierney came to the plate. He hit a cloudbreaker flyball into center field, just missing a home run, Duchien caught to end the threat.
“Ethan did a great job,” LeProwse said of Cunningham’s mound performance. “And, Cayde was hurt but playing. There is something going on with his elbow. I am extremely proud of him. How may 15-year-olds are going to lay out and throw to the plate like he did on that last play (of the game)?”
Stajcar was moved to first base from shortstop because of the elbow pain in his throwing arm.