By Bill Foley
Everything was perfect except the score.
The Butte Miner opened the American Legion Baseball season Saturday afternoon. The Kalispell Lakers swept the non-conference twin bill on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.
Kalispell won the opener 11-1 in six innings before completing the sweep with a 7-0 victory in Game 2.
Still, the general consensus was that it was just great to be at the ballpark again.
“It was a fantastic day,” Miners coach Jeff LeProwse said after the first sporting event in the Mining City since the coronavirus hit Montana in March.
Fans and players had to follow social distancing guidelines. Kalispell slugger Jack Corriveau celebrated a home run in the opener with air high fives.
“It’s weird to be spaced out. It’s weird not to shake hands,” LeProwse said. “Once you cross that line right there, it’s the same. It’s just a baseball game.”
With that, the coach said the Miners must get better than the seven hits they produced in two games. Also, Butte pitchers surrendered 13 walks and hit six batters in 13 innings of work, helping the Lakers improve to 3-1 on the season.
“Walks always kill. Walks, hit batsmen and passed balls, just early-season stuff that’s stupid that we’ve got to clean up,” LeProwse said. “I told our pitchers after the game that I’d rather see a 400-foot home run than four walks. We’ve got to bet better at throwing strikes. If they hit it, they hit it. We don’t want to give them free rides.”
The Lakers, who head to Great Falls on Sunday, also appear to have a quality Class AA club.
“They hit the ball really well,” LeProwse said. “I’ve got to give them credit. And some of them plays they made in the outfield. I thought we squared it up a couple of times, and they went and got it. They’re a good team.”
The Miners will face two more tough teams Sunday when they battle the Helena Senators and Bozeman Bucks in Helena.
Butte opens Southern A play with a 6:30 p.m. doubleheader against Gallatin Valley on Wednesday.
Lakes 11, Miners 1 (6 innings) Boxscore
It is almost always windy at Copper Mountain Park, but hardly ever is the wind blowing out toward left field.
It is debatable whether that wind helped Corriveau’s deep shot clear the fence in left-center field. It certainly did not hurt the Kalispell third baseman and leadoff hitter.
His high three-run shot give the Lakers a 4-0 lead in the second inning. The blast scored A.J. Wood and Ben Corriveau. It came five batters after Caden Wills walked, stole a base and took the next two on wild pitches.
Kalispell sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning.
Kobe Burland hit a two-run double to highlight a three-run fifth inning as the Lakers blew the game open. Kalispell scored three more in the sixth, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter.
Butte scored its lone run of the day in the fifth. Third baseman Reece Cox walked and scored on n groundout by Egan Lester.
Coyt Stajcar smacked a pair of singles to lead the Miner offense. Kian O’Neill added the only other Butte hit of the game, a single.
Eric Hart, Aidan Lee and Evan Starr worked walks for the Miners, who committed one of the cardinal sins of baseball by running into the third out of the first inning at the plate.
Shortstop Ryan Wahl was gunned down trying to score from second on a wild pitch. Kalispell catcher George Brink hit pitcher Kostya Hoffman for the out.
“That was the coach’s fault,” LeProwse said, referring to himself coaching third base. “Idiot. I don’t know what he was doing.”
Ryan Burt, Rylan Richards and Hunter Salcido pitched for the Miners. Richards fanned five in two and two thirds innings. That included him striking out the side in order — and against top three batters in the lineup — in the fourth inning.
Hoffman pitched the distance, striking out three and walking four, to get the win.
Lakers 7, Miners 0 Boxscore
Conner Drish made sure the Miner bats did not wake up in the second game.
Drish struck out two and walked none as he scattered four hits over seven shutout innings.
Ethan Diede homered and Hoffman smacked a pair of doubles to lead Kalispell, which broke open a 2-0 game with five runs in the fifth inning.
Diede also singled in the victory.
All four of Butte’s hits were singles, with Lester, Burt, Lee and Richards reaching on a base knock.
Wahl, on pitch count because it is early in the season, struck out three and walked three in four strong innings. He gave up two runs, one earned.