By Bill Foley
BELGRADE — Friday night was a night for the Butte Miners.
All of them.
Every single Butte American Legion baseball team since the Mining City last hoisted a championship trophy in 1953 was on the mind of the “Mine Boys” on another blistering evening at Edward S. Medina Field.
Kenley Leary pitched a gem, and the Miners pounded 17 hits as Butte thumped the host Belgrade Bandits 12-2 in the undefeated game at the Class A State tournament. (Boxcore)
The win means the Miners are guaranteed a berth in Sunday’s championship game. (Bracket)
“I’m just proud, honestly,” Leary said after scattering four hits and striking out five batters in six and two thirds innings of work. “I’m proud for my teammates. I’m proud for my teammates in the past — guys from the last few years who helped me develop into a better player, a better man. I’m happy for the city of Butte. This is what we need.”
While Butte (38-9) is guaranteed a spot in the chipper, the Miners first have to play the Havre Northstars at 3 p.m. Saturday. Belgrade will play fellow the Billings Cardinals in a loser-out game at noon.
If Butte, which opened the tournament with a 15-5 win over Havre, beats the Northstars, that that means the Cardinals or Bandits would have to knock off the Miners twice on Sunday. If three teams survive, the other two will battle it out to play Butte in a winner-takes-all game on Sunday.
The quirky schedule, though, was the last thing on the minds of the Miners Friday night. They are going to the championship game.
Sunday’s winner will represent the state in next week’s Northwest Regional Tournament in Utah.
“It’s awesome,” Butte coach Jim LeProwse said. “I’s been a loooong time. I’m excited. I’m excited for the city of Butte. I’m excited for the Butte Miners and all the Legion teams in the past. This is huge for everybody.”
A standing-room only crowd watched the game, including a large contingent from the Mining City. Again, the Butte fans were puckered early as the Miners fell behind early.
Gavin Waters hit a two-out RBI single to score Lane Neill to put the Bandits up 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning.
Leary tied the game in the top of the second with a single up the middle to score Rye “Ryverson” Doherty, who singled and stole second.
The Miners took off in the top of the third. Aidan Lee singled and stole second. He scored easily as Doherty hit a fly ball to deep left field to put the Miners on top for good.
Evan Starr continued his recent hot streak by trading places with Doherty and belting an RBI double. Sean Ossello doubled Starr in to make it 4-1.
Then the Miners started piling on. They scored at least a run in every inning from the second on. They scored two in the fourth, three in the fifth, on e in the sixth and two in the seventh.
Leary nearly went the distance. But he drilled Neill before giving up a single to Kash Fike, pushing him over the pitch count. Leary threw 107 pitches, and a pitcher is not permitted to start another batter if he has 105 pitches.
Trey Hansen got the final out for the win, and the Miners celebrated on the field.
Butte’s 17 hits included eight for extra bases. Leary, Lee, Doherty and Ossello each poked three hits in the win. Doherty hit two doubles, while Leary, Lee and Ossello hit one apiece.
Lee again drove in three runs, while Leary, Egan Lester and Doherty knocked in two.
Eric “Chooch” Hart hit a single and a double,
Lester and Cayde Stajcar singled as eight of the nine Butte batters in the lineup pounded at least one hit. Kevin Donaldson is the only Butte batter without a hit, but he worked three walks in the victory.
“We hit the s— out of the ball today, we really did,” LeProwse said.
Leary, though, was the story of the game for the Miners.
“Oh my God, domination. That’s the word of the day,” LeProwse said of Leary. “He’s as good as anybody out there. In my opining him and Easy (Ethan Cunningham) are the two best pitchers in Class A baseball.”
Leary said he had no problem shaking off a hiccup in the first inning. He said he was never in doubt on the hill.
“Honestly, I think it was just confidence in myself and my teammates having confidence in me,” Leary said after running his record to 8-0 on the season. “I know that they always will, and I just have that in the back of my mind that they have confidence in me. I go do what I do.”
The win was Butte’s eighth straight, dating back to their July 15 loss to the Bandits at home.
LeProwse said Stajcar will start Saturday’s game. He will have Doherty, who won the opener, and Hansen available for Sunday’s championship game, or games.
The Miners also have Aidan Lee, Eric Hart and George Riojas available to pitch if needed.
First, though, the Miners are going to soak up Friday’s win for a little bit.
“It feels really good,” LeProwse said. “I’m excited.”