By Bruce Sayler
Butte baseball is experiencing some happy days, thanks partially to contributions from the Cunningham family.
While Ethan Cunningham was pitching the Butte Miners to a 2-1 win over Belgrade Saturday in the Southern District tournament for Class A teams in Three Forks, his younger brother dished from the mound in Butte. Calvin Cunningham was the Butte All-Stars’ starting pitcher in a 15-8 seminal round win over Laurel during play in the Montana Little League Junior Division tourney,
The Butte juniors will play for the state title at 10 a.m. on Sunday against an opponent being decided in Saturday’s late loser-out game between Laurel and Lockwood/Shepherd. Dillon was eliminated Saturday in a 12-11 loss to Lockwood/Shepherd.
If Butte wins the 10 a.m. game, it will be state champion for the fourth straight year. A loss sets up a second game immediately following to crown the champ of the 13-14 age division.
Saturday, Butte sent 15 batters to the plate while scoring 10 runs in the fifth inning to blow past Laurel and retake the lead, 14-8. Nine hits and four errors shredded Laurel in the frame with three of Butte hits going for extra bases. Tegan Duffy and Noah Powers both slugged triples, and Tucker Kissell rapped a double.
Hugh O’Brien, Sawyer Casey, Treigh Hollow, Calvin Cunningham, Bryson Hibbert and Camden Ingraham all laced singles. Cunningham, in addition to working three strong innings on the hill, batted 4-for-4 at the plate for the day with four runs batted in.
Laurel had grabbed an 8-4 advantage prior to Butte’s enormous inning.
“We got the inning when we needed it to liven the team up and get them going,” Butte head coach Mike Duffy said. “They kept plugging away and finally pulled it out.
“(The Butte All-Stars) are a really good team. “This was their sixth game as a team and they’ve played really well.”
The fourth-inning deficit wasn’t too much of a worry, the coach said.
“I didn’t think so,” he said. “They were confident and had the confidence in each other. They knew they would explode.”
Assistant coach Chad Powers chimed in that anybody who might have made a mistake “came back around and did something good.”
“Pitching is really what gets us through,” Mike Duffy said, “but, we really hit the ball, too.”
The defense shows sparkle, as well.
Cunningham started on the mound Saturday and was followed by Tegan Duffy in the fourth inning before Hibbert came on in the sixth and finished. Coach Duffy said the speed of the first two throwers set up Laurel batters for Hibbert’s offspeed offerings that seemed to baffle the opponents. The hurlers combined to limit Laurel to five hits, fan 10 batters and walk five.
Hollow, Duffy, Hibbert and O’Brien joined Cunningham with multi-hit games as the Butte batters finished the game with 17 hits, coming to the plate for only six innings.
Laurel scored two runs in the first inning as first batter Ryan Berube singled to left and Preston Dennett beat out an infield hit. Cael Eastlick followed one out later with a single to center that got loose in the outfield and both baserunners scored.
Butte got one of the runs back in its first at-bats. Kodye Kjersten was hit by a pitch with two outs, was balked to second base and ran to third on a wild pitch before trotting home on a base hit to center by Cunningham.
Laurel padded its lead to 3-1 with a run in the third. Kolten Van Kuiken started with a walk. He got to second a strikeout later on a wild pitch and third on a bloop single to right by Tavarius Hall. Catcher Tegan Duffy threw Hall out at second base on a steal attempt, but Van Kuiken then dashed home on a wild pitch.
Butte gained its first lead of the game with three runs in its half of the third to claim a 4-3 edge. O’Brien reached on an infield hit but was erased at second on a ground ball out hit into by Casey. After another groundout, Hollow singled Casey home. Base hits by Duffy and Kjersten loaded the bases. Cunningham belted a two-run single to left field.
The Butte leaded lasted only half an inning. Laurel scored four times in the fourth and went ahead, 7-4.
Butte committed all three of its errors in the inning and yielded just one hit. Dennett’s leadoff single became a run after a groundout and two wild pitches. Two walks and a hit batter filled the bags. One run then scored on an error and another on a packed-sacks walk. Another wild pitch scored the fourth run.
Laurel’s last run was tallied in the top of the fifth. A walk and a hit batsman followed by a wild pitch put runners on second and third. Another wild pitch let the run come home.
Still, it turned out to be a better inning for Butte.
O’Brien singled with one out and was awarded second base on a balk. Casey singled to center. Miles Choquette’s bunt was fielded right of the pitcher’s mound, but thrown past first base and both O’Brien and Casey ran home on the sacrifice. Hollow’s single got past the outfield and Choquette scored. Duffy then tripled into left-center and Hollow came home with the tying run.
Kjersten’s sacrifice fly to right field brought in Duffy with the go-ahead run.
Cunningham then singled to left field and stole second base. Hibbert knocked him in with a single to right. Kissell doubled to left-center to drive in Hibbert. Powers then powered a triple to right-center that sent Kissell home. A wild pitch let Powers cross the plate. Ingraham scored the team’s 10th run of the frame. He singled to right, got to third on an error and dashed home on yet another wild pitch.
Laurel committed four errors in the game, but they were all in the fifth inning.
Choquette scored the last run of the game in the sixth inning. He walked and advanced to third base on wild pitches before Cunningham batted him in with a single that thudded into the second base bag.
Hibbert then finished Laurel off with a one-two-three top of the seventh, sandwiching two strikeouts around a groundout.
Laurel 201 410 0 — 8 5 4
Butte 103 0(10)1 x – 15 17 3
Cael Eastlick, Ryan Berube (5) and Mason Wilson. Calvin Cunningham, Teagan Duffy (4), Bryson Hibbert (6) and Teagan Duffy, Calvin Cunningham (4), Tucker Kissell (5). W – Duffy. L – Eastlick.
LAUREL – Ryan Beube 1-2, Preston Dennet 2-2, Mason Wilson 0-3, Cael Eastlick 1-2, Jack Carpenter 0-2, Kale Hunter 0-2, Joe Holman 0-2, Aidan Seymour 0-2, Grant Hutzenbiler 0-3, Kolten Van Kuiken 0-1, Kason Lamphear 0-2, Tavarius Hall 1-2.
BUTTE – Treigh Hollow 2-4, Teagan Duffy 2-4, Kodye Kjersten 1-1, Calvin Cunningham 4-4, Bryson Hibbert 2-4, Tucker Kissell 1-3, Noah Powers 1-3, Camden Ingraham 1-3, David Honer 0-3, Hugh O’Brien 2-2, Sawyer Casey 1-3, Miles Choquette 0-1.
Extra-base hits – 2B – Kissell. 3B – Duffy, Powers.
Runs batted in – Laurel 3 (Eastlick 1, Holman 1, Seymour 1), Butte 10 (Cunningham 4, Hollow 1, Duffy 1, Kjersten 1, Hibbert 1, Kissell 1, Powers 1).