Butte plays Gallatin Valley at 4 p.m. Saturday
By Bill Foley
Once Kenley Leary shot an imaginary arrow at third base Friday night, the large hometown crowd sensed things were going to be just fine for the Butte Miners.
Leary’s theatrics followed an RBI triple, which turned out to be the biggest hit of the night as the Butte boys turned a nervous start into a 7-3 win over the Bozeman Bucks at the South A District tournament on Miners Field at 3 Legends Stadium. (Boxscore)
Top-seeded Butte, which earned a first-round bye with its 17-1 regular-season record, will play Gallatin Valley at 4 p.m. Saturday, with the winner heading to the championship game. (Bracket)
“It feels good,” Leary said after the Miners advanced. “This is like winning two games for us, honestly, having that bye. I think we did a tremendous job tonight coming back fighting.”
The game was played in front of what is believed to be the largest crowd in the history of the stadium. Between 600 and 700 fans watched, and it seemed like the crowd was a bundle of nerves watching the highly-touted Miners, many for the firs time.
Those nerves compounded when Bozeman jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning, taking advantage of an error to put up two unearned runs of Butte starter Rye Doherty.
Doherty, who pitched the distance for the victory, plunked a pair of batters in the first inning.
“He struggled a little bit right at the beginning with control,” said Miners coach Jim LeProwse, who calls the pitches. “He whacked two guys in the first inning. I think part of it was the wind was blowing his curve ball.”
The wind was blowing in out of the north, which is highly unusual for that ballpark.
“I think it was helping his ball break a little more,” LeProwse said. “I called them both outside, and they both hit them right in the foot.”
The Miners cut the lead to 2-1 when Evan Starr hit a sacrifice fly to score Cayde Stajcar, who walked, stole second and took third on an error.
Butte tied the game at two in the bottom of the third. Leary walked and scored on an Egan Lester double.
Joey Starner hit a sacrifice fly to put the Bucks up 3-2 in the fourth. It turned out to be Bozeman’s last lead, and it did not last long.
Leary hit a ball over the head of Starner in center field. He raced around the bases for a standup triple that scored Ethan “Easy” Cunningham,” who reached via the walk.
As he pulled up into third base, Leary mimed shooting an arrow in the air over the Miners third-base dugout.
“When anyone gets a triple, when anyone burns someone, you shoot the arrow,” Leary explained. “You kind of let them know where it’s at.”
The three sacker was the start of a three-run inning that put the Miners up for good.
After Lester walked, Eric “Chooch” Hart hit a deep flyball to score Leary on a sacrifice fly. Lester then scored on a passed ball to make it 5-3.
Cunningham singled before Sean Ossello reached on an error in the fifth inning. Both scored when Leary hit a single, and then somehow got his way out of a pickle to advance to second.
That was more than enough insurance for Doherty, who scattered six hits, struck out four and walked one. Only one run was earned.
LeProwse acknowledged that the Butte crowd seemed nervous. But he said he wasn’t, and neither were his players.
“I don’t think we were nervous,” the coach said. “We were joking around, laughing and doing what we always do before a game.”
Of course, the way the 33-9 Miners have played all year, a 2-0 hole was no big deal to them.
“I’ve got so much confidence in what our offense can do,” LeProwse said. “If it’s only a couple of runs in the first inning, OK, we can come back from that. We’ve been down seven or eight and come back to win. I never count them out.”
Aidan Lee, Stajcar and Cnningham singled for Butte, which did its damage on just six hits. Stajcar and Lester both worked a pair of walks. Leary, who went 2 for 3, joined Lee, Cunningham and Anthony Knott with one walk.
Jarrett Herz doubled for the Bucks. Quinn Pershing hit two singles. Starter Gus Musial pitched into the fifth and took the loss.
“My hat’s off to Bozeman,” LeProwse said. “They played us tough.”
Normally, the winner of Saturday’s undefeated game would book a trip to next week’s Class A State tournament. Since Belgrade is hosting the tournament, the Bandits are automatically moving on.
That leaves just one in addition to Belgrade, which fell 9-4 to Gallatin Valley earlier Friday, representing the district at State.
Of course, Butte entered the tournament planning on winning, and that would make that head-scratching Legion rule a moot point for the Miners.
LeProwse will send Cunningham to the hill for Saturday’s crucial game. The Miners expect to see Gallatin Valley ace Mayson Shively.
They also expect to see another huge crowd to root, root, root for the home team.
“It was fantastic,” LeProwse said of Friday’s crowd. “I had a pretty good idea this was going to be a good crowd. I wouldn’t doubt tomorrow that we’ll have an even bigger crowd.
“They’ve been waiting for something for a long time. Butte baseball has been waiting for a state championship for 70 years. This team legitimately has a chance to give it to them, we really do. But we’ve got to take one game at a time to get there first.”
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