By Bill Foley
When the Southern A District American Legion baseball tournament opens Thursday at 3 Legends Stadium, the Butte Miners will be idle.
With a 17-1 conference record in the regular season, the Miners (32-9 overall) have earned a first-round bye. The Miners, though, will still very much feel the proverbial bullseye on their backs as they wait the winner of Thursday’s game between the Bozeman Bucks and Helena Reps.
“I think everyone is going to be gunning for us, without a doubt,” Miners first-year coach Jim LeProwse said. “I’m all for it. Bring it.”
Butte will play at 7 p.m. Friday. Bozeman and Helena open the tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday. Gallatin Valley takes on Dillon at 4 p.m., and Belgrade faces Anaconda at 7 p.m. (Bracket)
Games are seven innings, and Belgrade has an automatic berth into next week’s Class A State tournament because the Bandits are hosting the event. That only leaves one other team moving on.
If Belgrade does not make the championship game, then only the first-place team advances with the Bandits.
Butte plans on being that first-place team, though the Miners are under no illusion that it will be easy.
“There’s some good teams coming in,” LeProwse said. “It should be good competition. It will be a tough weekend of competition. It’s always tough to get out of our conference, and our conference always does well at state.”
In addition to its .780 winning percentage, Butte brings an exciting brand of baseball into the postseason. In 41 games, the Miners have racked up 140 steals as a team. They have a 91.5 percent success rate on the base paths, too.
“I said going into the season that we’re going to o run and hit and run,” LeProwse said. “We’re going to make other teams uncomfortable. We certainly lived up to it.”
LeProwse also said his team has a refuse-to-lose attitude.
“The kids bought in to what we do,” LeProwse said. “They’re just blue-collar kids. They just don’t quit. It’s a fun group to coach, I can tell you that”
The coach added that the team has a tremendous chemistry. The team has not had any infighting, and there has been no jealousy.
“It’s almost a once in a lifetime kind of thing where you get a team like this,” LeProwse said.
Seven Miners enter the postseason batting over .300. Shortstop Eric “Chooch” Hart leads the way, carrying a .489 batting average. That includes 12 doubles, five triples and 32 RBIs in 41 games.
Kenley Leary, who has played in 31 games, is hitting .463 with 16 doubles, three triples and two home runs. Sean Ossello is batting .429.
Cayde Stajcar, who will soon turn 15, is hitting .385 with 10 doubles, three triples, a pair of bombs and 41 RBIs in 36 games.
Quinn Cox is hitting .355, super Senior Aidan Lee is batting .315, and Anthony Knott is batting .306.
Egan Lester, Rye Doherty, Zach Tierney, George Riojas, Kevin Donaldson, Evan Starr, Ethan “Easy” Cunningham and Trey Hansen also provide some pop to the Miner lineup.
Butte also brings a deep pitching lineup into the season. Cunningham, Leary and Doherty lead the way. Cunningham is 7-1 with a 1.14 ERA. Leary, who is feeling good after battling shoulder sourness down the stretch, is 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA.
Leary’s ERA ballooned with a short-notice relief outing last weekend.
Doherty is 4-1 with a 3.16 ERA.
Hansen, Stajcar and Lee are the other three potential starters. Riojas is another pitcher who can come through for Butte. He struck out 10 batters in five and a third innings of relief in a game last week.
“We’re six guys deep who all throw very well,” LeProwse said. “It’s exciting. You don’t get a staff like that very often.”
The tournament will likely conclude on Sunday afternoon, though a second championship game in the true double-elimination tournament could possibly be played Monday.
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