With Memories of Former Coach and Teammate Still Fresh, Columbia Falls Baseball Plays With Heavy Hearts

The loss of coach Bill Sapa and former teammate Josiah Kilman hangs over Wildcats season

By Sarah Bloom for 406mtsports.com
Columbia Falls' Dayne Tu is safe at home after sliding in for the score against Corvallis Thursday. The Wildcats defeated the hosting Blue Devils, 12-9 to remain undefeated. | Sarah Bloom, 406mtsports.com

CORVALLIS — The Columbia Falls baseball team is playing for more than just a win every time the Wildcats step on the diamond this spring.  

With the jersey of late coach Bill Sapa hanging in the dugout and memories still fresh of late former teammate Josiah Kilman, who was murdered in college this year in Campbellsville, Kentucky, the Wildcats play with heavy hearts.

“It’s a redemption year for them,” head coach Chad Green said.  

The Wildcats are 4-0 after missing the state tournament by a run last year.  

They have shown a lot of promise. Among their wins is an 18-10 decision over defending state champion Polson.

So is Columbia Falls the team to beat now? 

“We want to be in the discussion for sure, but Polson is the defending state champs until they aren’t,” Green said.  

Getting the bat on the ball and scoring is a strength, according to the coach. Defense is a work in progress.  

“The Achilles’ heel has been, at times, that we can’t throw strikes. And that’s what’s hurting us,” Green said. “But when we get dialed in, the sky is the limit.”

In Corvallis on Thursday, the Blue Devils made a surge in the fifth, scoring six runs off three hits to cut into Columbia Falls’ lead by three runs. 

The Wildcats scored two insurance runs in the sixth and one in the top of the seventh to keep the Blue Devils at bay, earning a 12-9 win. 

Closing out the final inning to seal the win for Columbia Falls, senior Cody Schweikert threw three heaters down the middle to record a strikeout.  

The future Griz football player was also the basketball team’s post, standing 6-foot-4, and the quarterback for the state runner-up football Wildcats. 

“He’s our leader here,” Green said. “He always wants to compete. I had no plans of pitching him, but he begged me to get out on the mound.”

Columbia Falls starting pitcher Kellen Kroger said Thursday was indicative of the way his team has been playing this spring.

“We’ll go up a few runs or down a lot of runs and then suddenly come back and get the bats going,” he said.

Schweikert talked about his pitching after the game.

“I knew I had some in me,” he said. “I was getting loose on first base throwing some ground balls to Kellen. I knew it felt good. I was working on my knuckle ball in practice. I got up there. I shook off the knuckle ball and I came at him with the fastball.”

Columbia Falls allowed nine hits. The Wildcats had one error, scoring 12 runs off 10 hits in the non-conference contest.  

“We have a very talented team this year,” Schweikert said. “Last year we were a little bit younger and that kind of hurt us in the end. But this year our team is really senior loaded.

“We got a lot of leaders like Kellen and really, it’s just going to be how hard we’re going to push ourselves in practice and how we’re going to be able to execute in the games like we know we can.”

Kroger echoed Schweikert’s words. 

“We definitely have the talent to play with anyone in the state,” Kroger added.  

“As long as we keep swinging the bat like we are, I’ve got big plans for these boys,” Green said.