Butte opens State A at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Havre
By Bill Foley
Mother nature put on a lightning show around the Mining City as the Butte Miners accepted their South A District championship plaque Sunday on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium.
The Miners had already brought the thunder.
Butte’s “Mine Boys” pounded Belgrade 12-0 in the championship game Sunday, advancing to a state tournament for the first time since 2011. Butte will play the Havre Northstars at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Belgrade. (Boxscore)
The Bandits will also represent the district at the Class A State tournament, playing their first game against the Lewistown Redbirds at 7:30 p.m. (Bracket)
Like they have done so many times this season, the Miners (35-9) made it look easy as they played in front of another huge hometown crowd.
Cayde Stajcar and Evan Starr hit two-run doubles in the first inning, and the Miners never looked back. Butte put up eight runs in the third inning to put the game out of hand.
“That’s always the motto,” Butte first baseman Aidan Lee said. “You’ve got to get out early and leave no doubt.”
Butte pounded 10 hits, including three doubles, to back up the pitching of Kenley Leary, who dominated the Bandits in the win, which was called by the 10-run rule after five innings.
“His fast ball was live, and it was staying through,” Starr said of the Butte righty. “Everything was staying down in the zone, and he was getting weak contact. There was only one or two balls that were hit pretty hard.”
Butte played Belgrade after the Bandits rallied for a highly-improbable win over Gallatin Valley. Belgrade scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 12-11 win. Diego Casas hit a ball off the top of the fence in left field for what turned out to be a walk off single.
The Belgrade win meant that the Miners secured a berth at State. The Bandits were guaranteed one spot as the tournament host.
Lee said that did not change the Butte approach.
“I think everybody was a little more relaxed, but everybody new coming into that game, no matter who we played, we were going to play to win,” Lee said
Lee, who had to be talked into playing his super senior season after his first year at Montana Tech, was on Butte teams that fell a game short of State the last two summers.
“It feels good to finally get over that hump and get one for Butte,” Lee said. “It was so damn fun. I knew Kenley was going to come in and I knew he was going to shut them out.”
Leary picked up two of his five strikeouts in the first inning. Then he walked to lead off the bottom of the inning.
After Egan Lester reached on a fielder’s choice, Eric “Chooch” Hart was hit by a pitch and Lee drew a walk. Lester and Hart motored home as Stajcar rocketed a double down the line in left.
Lee and Stajcar scored easily when Starr hit the 10th pitch of an at bat off Belgrade starter Collin Delph to nearly the same place Stajcar hit his two bagger.
“He hung a curve ball,” Starr, a super senior catcher, said. “It was the seventh or eighth pitch of the at bat (actually the 10th). I knew he was going to go back to it eventually. So, I just kept fouling off every fast ball he threw me until he gave me another one.
“Right after that, everything kept going. We put up an eight spot in the third, and there was no doubt after that.”
Starr drove in a run the hard way — he was hit by a pitch — to start Butte’s third inning. Kevin Donaldson followed with a two-run single, Starr scored on a passed ball, Egan Lester hit a two-run single, Hart doubled in Lester and Hart scored on a Stajcar groundout.
“Right away when we put up that four spot, I knew we had control,” Butte coach Jim LeProwse said. “Especially with Kenley pitching. He’s so dominating when he’s on, and he was on. You could see it right in that first inning.
“I just had that feeling. These guys wanted it worse than you can imagine. These guys wanted it bad. You could see it the minute we walked in the ball park. They were like, ‘We got this. We’re going to go get it.’”
Stajcar and Star both drove in three runs. Lester, Lee, Stajcar and Donaldson each had a two-hit game. Lester, Hart, Lee and Stajcar scored two runs apiece. Sean Ossello, who was hit by a pitch, dropped down a sacrifice bunt.
Third baseman Rye Doherty, who scored a run, was part of the defensive play of the game.
Cameron Ueland hit a double to left field. Lester hit the cutoff man, Hart, who threw to Doherty to nail Ueland at third for the third out of the inning. The tag came just before Aidan Kulbeck, touched home plate, preserving the shutout.
Stajcar ended the game with a nice double play. The second baseman tagged a runner before firing to Lee at first to complete the twin killing
Starr pointed out that Sunday was his last game on Miners Field.
“It’s great. The last time playing on this field, it feels good to win it here,” he said. “Our last two games against GVO and Belgrade, both of those teams are good enough to win a state title this year. We just brought it to them.”
Now, the Miners are five wins away from winning their first state title since 1953.
Lee said he was thankful that assistant coach Luke Stajcar kept texting him, convincing the left-handed slugger to play one more season.
“This is just the beginning,” Lee said. “I couldn’t be happier that I played.”