Baseball Season Heats Up with State Tournament Action

Kalispell Lakers AA, A clubs advance to championship tournaments; Glacier Twins conclude season at district tourney

The boys of summer competed last weekend in American Legion baseball action in hopes of extending the season for another week.

Mission accomplished.

The Kalispell Lakers Class AA squad swept the Butte Miners in the final regular season games and pushed their record to 30-16 overall and 11-7 in the conference, landing them fifth in the state standings. The Lakers advanced to this week’s state tournament in Bozeman on July 26-30.

A year after placing second at the state tournament, the Lakers will renew their title quest in the July 26 tourney opener against fourth-seeded Helena (12-6 in conference) at noon.

The third-seeded Missoula Mavericks (12-6) play the No. 6 Great Falls Chargers (9-9) at 9 a.m. The second-seeded Billings Royals (13-5) take on the No. 7 Lethbridge Elks (7-11) at 3 p.m. The top-seeded Bozeman Bucks (14-4) play the eighth-seeded and defending state champion Billings Scarlets (6-12) at 7:30 p.m.

“Baseball season is a grind,” Lakers head coach Ryan Malmin said. “These guys have come out day in and day out in practices and games and kept up the energy and played well. I couldn’t ask for a better group of hardworking boys. It’s been an absolute blast working with this group.”

This year’s AA state tournament is wide open with five teams within only a few games of each other in the standings. In fact, the Lakers finished a few pitches away from placing second.

“There’s a lot of balance in the state this year,” Malmin said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”

Perhaps the best example arrived last week when the Lakers split with the state’s No. 1 team, Bozeman. Kalispell’s Sam Elliot shined on the mound, tossing 8 2/3 innings of shutout ball. Kalispell won the first game 4-2 and Bozeman bounced back to win the next game 6-1.

“We’ve competed with every team in the state,” Malmin said, noting the team’s four sweeps and four splits this summer.

The Lakers have put together another memorable season on the diamond. Patrick O’Connell has led the way as one of the best all-around players in Montana. O’Connell, a recent graduate of Glacier High School, has a .479 batting average with 53 RBI. He’s tallied 15 doubles and 10 triples with stolen 14 bases.

Torin Bowden has knocked in 36 runs, Haydn Schlepp has 33 RBI, Dawson Smith has 29, and Eric Seaman has 28.

From the pitcher’s mound, Elliot leads the Lakers with 59 strikeouts in 83 innings. His ERA is 2.93. Smith and Drew Scherrer have each struck out 46 batters. Brady Pfeiffer has also excelled for Kalispell, striking out 36 batters, followed by Johan Freudenberg, who’s fanned 29.

“It is a young group, but with us entering the postseason, everyone is a veteran,” Malmin said. “Kids gain confidence from preparation. They are prepared.”

The Kalispell Lakers Class A squad is also enjoying another week of action after advancing from last weekend’s Western A District Tournament in Whitefish.

The Lakers entered the tournament near the middle of the pack but rose to the occasion, winning three straight to open the event, including a 5-4 nail-biter over the Glacier Twins and a 13-12 win over the Bitterroot Bucs. The Lakers eked out a run in the top of the seventh to defeat Glacier and scored six runs in the top of the seventh to rally past Bitterroot. Against the Bucs, the Lakers trailed 10-0 before bouncing back. Logan Siblerud and Cole Crosby each had three hits. Siblerud and Taylor Morton had three RBI, while Crosby added two.

The Bitterroot Red Sox edged Kalispell 3-0 in the district championship, and both squads advanced to this week’s state championship tournament in Three Forks. This is the first time the Lakers A club has qualified for the state tournament; two years ago it received an automatic berth as the host team.

The Twins entered the tournament 22-2 overall after an outstanding regular season but suffered last-minute struggles to fall short of the state tourney.