In the spring of 2020, when high school sports were closed down across Montana, hope for an amended summer baseball schedule was still palpable. That hope appeared to be dashed in mid-May, when the American Legion’s national organization announced it was shutting down all sponsorship for the season on a national level.
Less than a week later, however, the Department of Montana American Legion Baseball was formed, with the blessing of the national office, and a full season was pulled together.
This year the baseball season started off in the spring without a hitch, and as the height of summer approaches, so too does the height of the competitive season for the Glacier Twins and Kalispell Lakers.
For the Glacier Twins, a young team is looking to continue the team’s recent success, which included a state and northwest regional championship in 2018 and last season’s district championship.
“It’s been a little bit of a learning experience because we’re a real young team,” second-year coach Kevin Slaybaugh said. “But we’re a pretty talented little team.”
The Twins (19-7) have been off to a solid start and have played most of the season without all-state performer Zach Veneman, a legion super-senior who batted .316 for Valley City State University in South Dakota this year.
As the oldest member of the team, Veneman provides a lot of leadership to the young team, and his return to the diamond is sure to boost the team’s baseline.
“We had a rollercoaster playing in the doubleheader against Libby,” Slaybaugh said about last weekend’s split games against the Loggers. “[With Veneman] we’re looking for a little more stability and consistency, especially because our pitching hasn’t been as deep as we thought it would be.”
Veneman has only pitched 15 innings so far, but has a 1.4 earned-run average, which bolsters a solid pitching roster that includes Jacob Polumbus (1.6 ERA), George Robbins (2.44) and Caleb Meehan (2.77).
Offensively, the Twins are powerful at the plate.
“When we hit, we really hit,” Slaybaugh said. “We’re hitting about .315 as a team, and it’s been higher than that but we came back to earth a little bit.”
Leadoff hitter Mason Peters has been batting .400, while all-conference performer Stevyn Andrachick has been hitting .411.
As the conference games get into full swing, Slaybaugh is ready to tighten up the team’s overall play and aiming for another solid showing at the state tournament.
“Defensively you can always get better, but the biggest thing for me is working on the quality at bats,” he said. “Getting the young guys bought into having quality at bats will be huge.”
For the AA Lakers, a 2-1-1 showing at the Northwest Premier Tournament gives the team some good momentum going into the heart of conference play.
At the tournament last weekend in Spokane, the Lakers rolled past Lakeside Recovery 9-2 and took down the Spokane Cannons 6-5, more than making up for an early 3-1 loss. The final game on Sunday against Blue-Webb Expos ended in a tie.
The A team also traveled to Spokane, splitting its four games, while the B team stayed home and took care of business with a doubleheader against Mission Valley, outscoring them 26-6.
The AA Lakers (21-7) entered last year’s state tournament as the No. 3 seed and picked up a first-round win against Missoula before falling to No. 2 Helena and the No. 4 Billings Scarlets. They ended last year’s abbreviated season with a 14-10 record.
So far in conference play, the Lakers have only faced Missoula, with two doubleheaders that tilted in favor of the Mavs 3-1. The first games, on June 6, were close — both of them walk-offs — but went to the Mavs.
Three days later, the doubleheader got started with a marathon game that lasted 2 hours and 43 minutes, plus an additional 20-minute rain delay between the first and second innings that forced the tarps to come out.
The Lakers committed five errors, several of which led to runs for the Mavericks, before tightening up their play in the second game to down the Mavs 14-11. The Lakers had a solid 7-3 lead after five innings before a massive sixth propelled them to a 14-3 lead in the top, and then held on for the win.
The Lakers will travel to Billings this weekend for back-to-back doubleheaders against the Billings Scarlets, and then will prepare for the Summer Palouse Tournament in Cheney, Washington at the end of the month.
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