Miners crush Cardinals for first State title in 69 years

Miners crush Cardinals for first State title in 69 years
The Butte Miners mob first baseman Aidan Lee (5) after his walk-off single ended the championship game in the fifth inning. Butte bat the Billings Cardinals 12-2 to give the Miners their first State title in 69 years. (Bill Foley photos)

‘Boys of Butte’ will represent Montana at Utah regional

By Bill Foley

BELGRADE — Egan Lester can apparently be very persuasive.

When Montana Tech head football coach Kyle Samson didn’t want his running back to play baseball, Lester kept asking.

“He wasn’t a huge fan of me wanting to play because he wanted me working out with the Orediggers,” Lester said Sunday. “But I slowly convinced him to let me play.”

On Sunday, that persuasiveness paid off in a big, big way.

Lester scored the game-clinching run in the bottom of the fifth inning as the Butte Miners beat the Billings Cardinals 12-2 in the championship game of the Class A State American Legion baseball tournament Edward S. Medina Field. (Boxscore)

The contest was stopped by the 10-run rule, and the win gave the Miners their first State title since Jim Kello guided Butte to the crown in 1953.

“It feels amazing,” Lester, a super senior, said. “I feel like it’s the funnest year of baseball I’ve ever played. As a team, we’re just playing together. We’ve got momentum going, and I think we’re going to carry that down at regionals.”

The Miners will play the Oregon state champions to open the Northwest Regional Class A tournament Friday in Vernal, Utah. There is not national tournament for Class A.

A standing-room crowd packed the ballpark Saturday, and the crowd was heavily slanted toward the “Boys from Butte.”

Like they have so many times, the Miners took the drama out of the game early.

Butte sent 13 batters to the plate, and the Miners scored nine runs in the first inning.

“We got off to a good start,” Butte shortstop Eric “Chooch” Hart said. “We put the play, and good things happened.”

That was more than enough to back up 16-year-old pitcher Trey Hansen. The soon-to-be Butte High junior pitched the distance for the biggest win of his life.

He became the first Butte pitcher to get a win in a state championship game since Larry Schulz beat Billings 2-1 on Aug. 11, 1953 in Billings.

“He’s been our closer all year,” Hart said of Hansen, who actually began the season playing for the younger Butte Muckers. “We thought, ‘He’s been pitching so well as a closer, why don’t we start him?’

“We wanted to always have Rye (Doherty) in our back pocket in case we needed him in Game 2. But we didn’t need him. Obviously, Trey just rolled.”

Kenley Leary, who was named tournament MVP, started the bottom of the first inning with a single, and the Miner offense just clicked from the start.

Leary stole second and Lester singled him in to put the Miners up for good. Butte followed with RBI singles by Hart, Cayde Stajcar, Zach Tierney, Sean Ossello and Lester again. Lee hit a sacrifice fly, and Hart drove in a run with a groundout.

After that, the countdown was one.

Billings got one run in the third, when a Hansen pitch went to the back stop. Tayshawn Johnson scored, and Mason Brosseau headed home when the throw back got past Hansen. Hart though, picked up the ball and threw to Hansen to gun down Brosseau.

“Even though Eric didn’t get an MVP, the stuff that he does to make us better is unreal,” Butte coach Jim LeProwse said. “Eric Hart is one of the best baseball players I have ever coached. He is so heads up. He’s a leader, he really is.”

In the bottom of the inning, Hart singled in Ossello and Lester to extend the lead to 11-1.

Another ball to the backstop allowed Mike Brew to score in the top of the fourth, but all that run eventually meant was the Miners would have to bat in the bottom of the fifth.

Lester led off with a high double that landed just fair down the first base line.

“Right when I hit it, I saw the right fielder didn’t really get a good jump on it,” Lester said. “I saw it coming down right by the line, so I thought I would just run it out hard.”

Hart hit a deep fly ball to right field to advance Lester to third as Lee, a lefty, strolled to the plate.

“He did is job,” Lester said of Hart. “Aidan Lee, he took over the rest for us.”

Lee swung at the first pitch and smashed it to right to make history.

“It felt really good just to do it for the team,” Lee said. “It’s been a while, but this team, man, we’re so close. I think that’s really what gets us over the hump. Of course, we’re super good, but we’re close. That’s why were so good.”

In five State tournament games, the Miners outscored their opponents 61-17. They pounded 68 hits, 25 of which went for extra bases.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at competing at regionals, too,” LeProwse said. “If we swing it like this, we’ll compete with anybody.”

Lee took home the batting title for the tournament, but Lester went 4 for 4 with three runs scored and two RBIs in the championship game. He hit two doubles.

Hart, Tierney and Ossello each poked two hits, while Leary, Lee and Stajcar had one.

Doherty drew a walk and scored a run, and catcher Quinn Cox was hit by a pitch, his specialty, before coming home to score.

“This is the best felling,” Hart said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. This is one of the best days of my life for sure.”

Other members of the team are Evan Starr, Kevin Donaldson, Anthony Knott, Ethan “Easy” Cunningham, George Riojas, Gavin Trudgeon, Tyler Duffy and Derek Dunmire.

LeProwse’s top assistant is Luke Stajcar. Other assistants are Dyllan “Kruck” Lane, Reece Cox, Kian O’Neill and Dale Kingery.

Hart pointed to Jeff LeProwse, who coached the last 10 seasons before handing the job to his older brother.

“One of the best feelings is seeing Jeff LeProwse, our old coach,” Hart said. “He was a big part of this. He coached all these kids.”

LeProwse pointed to the entire Mining City and Butte Miners players and coaches from the past seven decades.

“Sixty-nine years,” LeProwse said. “That was for all of Butte right there. There’s been a lot of Legion teams through the years, great Legion teams through the years, and we’re finally over that hump. It feels great. I’m so proud of my guys.

“They competed. They wanted it from the day we stepped into Belgrade until today, they wanted it.”

The Miners, who have now won 10 straight games, will head to Utah at 40-9.

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