Bases Loaded

The valley’s ball teams boast solid summer seasons across all levels of competition

By Micah Drew
Beacon file photo

Range Riders: At the end of the first half of the Glacier Range Riders’ inaugural season with the Pioneer Baseball League, the Flathead Valley franchise held a 17-30 record to sit eighth out of 10 teams in the league standings. 

For a first-year team, the Range Riders have come together for some impressive performances, including their first road series against the Rocky Mountain Vibes in May when they won five of the six games, tallying 96 runs. 

Despite residing in the lower realms of the league’s teams, the Range Riders have seen some standout performances from individual players, including starting pitcher Logan VanWey, who became the first Range Rider to move up in the professional ranks. Last week the team announced VanWey signed a contract with the Houston Astros. 

In nine appearances with the Range Riders, VanWey pitched 39.1 innings, had a 2-2 record, a 6.64 ERA, and 46 strikeouts, which led the team and stands as a franchise record in its first year. His best day came in a June game against the Great Falls Voyagers where VanWey pitched six innings allowing two runs, five hits and striking out four. 

The team is currently 1-5 in the second half of the season after dropping four straight games to the Idaho Falls Chukars. 

A seat at Flathead Field in Kalispell on June 14, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Kalispell Youth Softball Association: The Kalispell Emeralds are the competitive travel teams of the Kalispell Youth Softball Association (KYSA), offering girls ages 9 to 18 the chance to hone their fastpitch skills over the summer. 

This year the Emeralds fielded six teams — 10U, 12U, two 14Us, 16U and a 16-18 team. At the Montana Junior Olympic State Tournament earlier this month, two teams, a 14U and the 16U, finished third among all competitors. 

“The competition level we were competing in at state was so high, so finishing third is just a phenomenal outcome,” KYSA president and 16U coach Sue Allen said. “The thing with travel ball compared with the high school season is that every team in the state gets to go to state, so you’re competing against every talented girl in Montana.”

Last year the Emeralds had two first place and two second place finishes among the various teams, but Allen said that each year state gets more competitive and the athletes keep rising to the level. 

During the short club season, which kicks off as soon as the spring high school season ends, teams travel to tournaments across Montana and around the Northwest. Allen took the 16U team to several out-of-state tournaments to give the athletes exposure to college scouts to begin thinking about a fastpitch future beyond their teenage years. 

“Softball is a sport that you start at a young age if you want to be competitive, and you can see by the strength of the valley’s high school programs we feed into how these teams are,” Allen said. “We’ve been fortunate to have so many younger girls coming out to join the programs each year.”

Nick Nyman, one of the 14U team coaches, said across the board the camaraderie and competitiveness he saw with the players this year was off the charts. 

“It’s not even contained within each age group,” Nyman said. “When all the teams travel to tournaments together, they’re all supporting each other and celebrate each team’s successes.”

One of the season’s highlights was the Splash Classic Tournament in Polson over Fourth of July weekend, where the Emeralds swept the tournament in four of the five divisions. 

“Every single girl had amazing growth this season and just outstanding performances every time we rolled up to a tournament,” Nyman said. “When you put those together, you get competitive softball teams.”

Allen and Nyman also highlighted the efforts of parents, volunteers and coaches that band together each year to allow the Emeralds to perform at the highest levels. 

“When you get the right set of girls together, add in chemistry, great coaches and a support system, they can do pretty much anything,” Allen said. 

Courtesy of Kalispell Emeralds

Legion Ball: The Class AA Montana-Alberta State Tournament for American Legion Baseball is set to start on July 27 in Billings. 

The Kalispell Lakers earned a No. 6 seed into the tournament after a 7-9 season. The Lakers began conference play 4-1 before suffering a five-game losing streak in mid-July. Their first game will be against the No. 3 Billings Scarlets. The last time the teams matched up, they split a doubleheader with Kalispell taking game one 5-3 before losing 6-3 in the second. 

The double-elimination tournament is hosted at Billings’ Dehler Park with four opening round games and will conclude on Sunday with the crowning of a state champion.

In Class A, the Glacier Twins boasted a league-leading 15-1 record going into the West A District tournament last weekend but came up short of a championship, falling 13-1 to the Bitterroot Red Sox. 

The Class A state tournament also kicks off on July 27 in Belgrade, with the Twins opening up against the Laurel Dodgers. After finishing as runner-up last season, the Twins are looking to bring home the first state title since 2018.

The Glacier Twins play against the Missoula Mavericks in an American Legion baseball game at Memorial Field in Whitefish on June 25, 2019. The Twins won both their games against the Mavericks, 8-1 and 12-2. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon