By Bill Foley
The last time the Butte Miners won an American Legion baseball state championship, the newspapers did not even call them by their nickname.
On Aug. 11, 1953, Butte lefthander Larry Schulz pitched the “Butte American Legion Juniors” to a 2-1 win over Billings in the state championship game at Cobb Field in Billings. A crowd of 1,595 watched Butte win its fourth state title.
Butte also won in 1949, 1946 and 1936.
Amazingly, they have not won another title since coach Jim Kello’s boys claimed the crown in 1953.
Nearly 69 years later, the Miners are hoping to deliver the Mining City its fifth Legion title when they head to Belgrade for the Class A State tournament. Butte will open against the Havre Northstars at 4 p.m. at Medina Field.
Butte won the South A District title with a 12-0 win over Belgrade Sunday at 3 Legends Stadium. Havre is the No. 2 seed from the North A. (Bracket)
Miners coach Jim LeProwse, who took over this year after his brother Jeff led Butte for the past decade, said his “Mine Boys” are not feeling the pressure of seven decades of championship-less teams.
“They’re all relaxed,” LeProwse said before the Miners left town for the pre-tournament picnic in Belgrade. “They were (goofing) off today. They were all dying their mustache’s black, or some stupid thing.
“We’ve got some pretty good leadership on the team, and they’re keeping everybody pretty loose. They’re focused. They’re hungry. They want this.”
The Miners have steamrolled their opponents all season long. The 35-9 Miners outscored its three opponents 34-8 at the district tournament. At one point, Butte won 20 straight games, and the Miners did not lose a game in the month of June.
LeProwse pointed out that his club is also battle tested with big wins in close games. He said his team is not taking anything for granted.
“They’re not going in over confident, or anything like that,” LeProwse said. “I keep them humble. I tell them, ‘You can get beat at any time.’”
LeProwse said the Miners are sticking to the old adage of “one game at a time.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to set ourselves up beyond tomorrow,” LeProwse. “It kind of depends who we are going to play. Tomorrow is big, then the next day is really big, too.
“Some of that is we’ve got to get there first. We’re going to really have to evaluate who we’re playing.”
Pitch count will play a major role in the planning too. Rye Doherty, who pitched Butte past Bozeman in the South A District tournament Friday in Butte, will got the ball on the hill for the opener.
After that, expect Ethan “Easy” Cunningham to pitch in the second game. The third game could be Trey Hansen, or it could be Kenley Leary, who threw a shutout in Butte’s 12-0 victory over Belgrade in Sunday’s South A championship game at 3 Legends Stadium.
Those four pitchers have combined to go 24-3 on the season.
If a pitcher goes over 80 pitches, he has to rest four days. Between 60 to 80 pitches means he has to take three days off, and under 60 means two days off.
Leary got through Sunday with 79 pitches, which means he could throw again on Thursday, but LeProwse is learning toward Saturday.
“We’re going to have to have five guys,” LeProwse said. “But we have five. We have seven guys that I would throw, without a doubt.”
That includes Cayde Stajcar, Aidan Lee and George Riojas. All have thrown big innings for the Miners this season.
Offensively, slick-fielding shortstop Eric Hart leads the charge for the miners. He is batting .493, one of four Miners hitting over .400. He is joined by Leary (.449), Sean Ossello (.417) and Stajcar (.402).
Quinn Cox (.354), Aidan Lee (.330) and Egan Lester (.322) are all hitting over .300, while Anthony Knott (.295), Doherty (.292) and Zach Tierney (.284) are not far behind.
Kevin Donaldson, Evan Starr, Cunningham and Riojas have also contributed offensively this year. Eyston Lakkala has missed almost all of the season with a shoulder injury.
Lester, Lee and Starr are super seniors and clear leaders on the team. Riojas, Leary and Hart are seniors.
The Billings Cardinals will open the tournament against the Bitterroot Red Sox at 10 a.m. The Laurel Dodgers will take on the Glacier Twins at 1 p.m., and the Lewistown Redbirds will battle the host Belgrade Bandits at 7:30.
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