By Bill Foley
If you thought the Butte Miners would be nervous as they traveled to the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament, then you don’t really know the Butte Miners.
As the team bus headed to Vernal, Utah for Friday’s 1 p.m. opener against the Oregon state champions, the Miners were busy being themselves.
“They act the same as they always do,” Miners coach Jim LeProwse said from the bus Thursday. “They’re just (goofing) off and having fun. They definitely don’t act like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re the state champs.’ They’re just business as usual.”
The Miners, though are the Class A Montana state champions. They earned that title at last week’s State tournament in Belgrade, bruising their way through the bracket for the first championship for a Butte American Legion team since 1953.
In Vernal, the Butte boys will represent Montana. Idaho will play Wyoming No. 1, Wyoming No. 2 will take on Utah, and Alaska will play Vernal, Utah. The eight-team tournament will feature a bracket identical to last week’s Class A State tournament.
While they will enjoy themselves like usual, LeProwse said the Miners are heading to Utah with one goal in mind.
“We’re not just doing it to have fun,” the coach said. “We’re doing it to win this thing. That’s on our goal. You know how that is. If you win, it is fun.”
Butte enters the tournament at 40-9 on the season. The Miners are winners of 10 straight games, and they have their pitching set up thanks to four off days since their last game.
LeProwse said he will throw Ethan “Easy” Cunningham in the opener. Then, the coach will watch the rest of the teams and come up with a plan for the rest of the way.
That plan will include throwing Rye Doherty, Kenley Leary and Trey Hansen. LeProwse said he will not sure 14-year-old Cayde Stajcar, who won a game Saturday. He suffered a hairline fracture in his thumb fouling off a pitch in the State championship game.
Stajcar, though, will play. LeProwse said he was fitted with a splint, and he has no trouble hitting or throwing.
Aidan Lee, a super senior lefty who plays first base, can pitch in Stajcar’s place. So, too, can George Riojas, Eric “Chooch” Hart. Tyler Duffy and Gavin Trudgeon.
Duffy, who has entertained the Butte crowd for hustling after four balls during the postseason run, and Trudgeon were Butte Muckers up to the Miners after the Muckers season ended. Derek Dunmire is another.
“I’ve got a lot of guys,” LeProwse said.
Hartis hitting .497 on the season to lead the Muckers. Leary, the MVP of the Class A State tournament, is hitting .457, and Sean Ossello is batting .448.
Stajcar is hitting .384, while Lee is batting .364, Egan Lester is at .355, Quinn Cox sits at .333, and Zach Tierney and Doherty are both batting .318.
Evan Starr is a leader at catcher, even when he isn’t playing. Cunningham, Riojas, Kevin Donaldson and Anthony Knott are also threats at the plate for the Miners.
There is no World Series for Class A, so the regional is the end of the line for the Miners. LeProwse pointed out that conference rival Gallatin Valley placed second in the tournament last year.
The coach said he doesn’t know exactly what to expect, but he said he is not complete flying blind.
“I’ve got a little bit of information on some of the teams,” LeProwse said. “Cody Wyoming played the Billings Cardinals four times, and the Cardinals beat them four of the last time. Cody beat Casper, Wyoming.”
LeProwse said he is confident in his team’s chances, especially if it can keep hitting like it did last week.
“I think we can win it,” the coach said. “If we keep hitting like that, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Most of all, LeProwse said the Miners will soak everything up as they play two weeks longer than they have in a long, long time.
“They’re pretty humble about it,” LeProwse said. “They’re just enjoying it while it lasts.”
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