By Bill Foley
Even before he saw the ball take a membership hop over the head of the Gallatin Valley center fielder, Butte Miner Eric “Chooch” Hart knew the game was over.
The Miners were just hitting the ball too well to be stopped.
“I thought it was just a single,” Hart said of what turned out to be a game-clinching double. “The grass is hard. Either way, we had Aidan (Lee) and Cayde (Stajcar). We had an eighth grader up, and I had all the confidence in the world.”
The shot by the Butte shortstop, though, put an end to the game before Lee or Stajcar had a chance. The Miners won 15-5 in six innings. The game was stopped by the 10-run rule on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium. (Boxscore)
The victory sends Butte to the championship game of the South A District tournament. Their opponent for the 1 p.m. game is to be determined. (Bracket)
The Miners pounded 19 hits in six innings, shelling Outlaws ace Mayson Shively in the statement win that ran Butte’s record to 34-9.
“That’s the best we hit all year at a team,” Butte coach Jim LeProwse said. “We had one inning where we didn’t score, and we had chances then, too. If we hit like that, oh my god, we’ll be lights out.
“Shively is a great pitcher. He’s had a great year all year. That’s a plus for us.”
The Miners never trailed as they played in front of another huge hometown crowd. Moments after Egan Lester slid headfirst for Butte’s first run on a passed ball, Zach Tierney smoked a two-run double to left field.
Butte seemed to put the game away with an eight-run second inning to make it 11-0, and the Miners led 12-1 after three.
Gallatin Valley, though, took advantage of a couple of errors to get to Butte starter Ethan “Easy” Cunningham for four runs in the fourth. Trailing 12-5, they looked to make it a game when the pitch count forced LeProwse to go to 16-year-old reliever Trey Hansen with the bases loaded and two out.
Hansen struck out Reid Woodward on four pitches to end the threat.
“He’s been a great closer all year,” Hart said of Hansen. “He’s throwing strikes. He’s tough to hit off.”
LeProwse did not hesitate to go to the soon-to-be Butte High junior who started the season as a Butte Mucker.
“He came in in that situation and just dealt,” LeProwse said. “Trey is a competitor. He’s got confidence in what he can do, and he’s been like that all year for us. He’s got a huge up side.”
Butte added on two runs in the fifth. Rye Doherty stole home before Sean Ossello hit an RBI single.
The Miners put the win to bed in the sixth. Lester led off with a single. He scored when Hart’s shot to center hit a hard spot on the grass, burning center fielder Robert Hays, who appeared to be trying to deke Lester to keep him from advancing.
“When that ball bounced over his head, I just said in my mind, ‘Game over,’” LeProwse said.
“That’s a huge win,” Hart added. “That’s a great team. Every time we play them it’s going to be a competition.”
With four hits, including the double, Hart was one of six Miners with a multiple-hit game. Lester hit three singles, and Stajcar, who is still not 15, joined Tierney with a double and a single. Doherty and Ossello each hit two singles.
In all, 10 Butte players had at least one hit in the victory.
Kenley Leary doubled, and Lee, Quinn Cox and Evan Starr singled. Lee drove in two runs, while Hart, Ossello and Tierney each drove in two. Leary, Doherty and Cox knocked in one.
Woodward, Cyrus Ricahrdson and Brody Ayes doubled for the Outlaws, who will play Belgrade in a loser-out game at 10 a.m. Sunday. The winner of that game will play the Miners, needing to beat Butte twice.
Belgrade eliminated Bozeman with a 1-0 win later Saturday.
LeProwse said Leary will get the start on the hill, regardless of the opponent.
“I know now we’ve got to be beat twice, and right now I’ve only burned two pitchers,” LeProwse said.
Normally, advancing to the championship game would mean the Miners qualify for the State A tournament, which is next week in Belgrade. The Bandits, though, are an automatic qualifier because they are hosting, and they will go in place of the second-place team if they do not qualify for the title game.
That head-scratching rule that, frankly, seems unfair, means the Miners will need to win the championship game to advance if the Outlaws beat the Bandits in the morning game. If Belgrade wins, the Miners will know they are moving on regardless of the outcome.
If a second championship game is forced, the team with a loss heading in will decide if the game will be played later Sunday or on Monday.
The Mines are trying to reach a state tournament since the Miners hosted the Class AA tournament at Alumni Coliseum in July 2011.
“I’m excited to see where this thing is going to go,” LeProwse said. “We’re not done yet.”