If there were any nerves Belgrade’s players kept them hidden Thursday morning in Lewistown.
Many of the players were competing in their first-ever state tournament, but manager Johnny Graham noted no one would have known otherwise. The Bandits were all business in the days leading up to the Montana-Alberta Class A State Tournament.
“This morning same thing,” said Graham. “This morning came in and went through normal game day BP (batting practice), and it didn’t seem like there were adding anything to it.”
Belgrade (39-15) scored three runs in the bottom of the first and then rode the arm of Cooper VanLuchene to post a 10-0 five-inning first round victory against Bitterroot.
“I thought we played well. Cooper threw well, we were good defensively, and it helped scoring in the bottom half of the first most definitely,” said Graham. “And then we were just able to kind of slowly but surely add on. It was real methodical in a sense, but we continued to add on and it was a pretty good game all around.”
The Bandits advanced to the second round will play Billings at 4 p.m. Friday. The Blue Jays scored five first inning runs en route to a 9-2 win against Havre.
Belgrade did not play Billings during the regular season, but Graham did get an opportunity to scout Thursday’s game.
“They look really clean,” he said. “They make plays defensively. The kid they’re throwing (Gunnar Thompson) gets ahead of hitters, and their hitters all go up with looks like a real educated plan at the plate. They look good.”
Cole Thomas and Coby Richards each doubled in the first — Richards’ drove in a run — while Seth Green and VanLuchene each had RBI-singles. The Bandits stretched the lead to 4-0 in the second before scoring three in both the fourth and fifth.
In the fifth, Belgrade loaded the bases on three times and scored two easy runs when Zaie Bender hit Isaiah Brandhorst with a pitch and then walked Lane Neil. Thomas drove in the winning run on a sacrifice fly.
Green finished 2 for 2 with five RBIs, while Thomas was 2 for 2 with a pair of doubles. VanLuchene led the defensive effort by tossing a 2-hitter and striking out seven.
“He did a pretty good job. It’s just how he pitches. He commands three pitches. He pitches with a real nice level of confidence. He’s always so composed up there,” said Graham. “So he didn’t change a thing from what we’ve seen really from the last two years from him. He was in real good command of that game.”
Belgrade 10, Bitterroot 0
Bitterroot 000 00 - 0 2 0
Belgrade 310 33 - 10 7 1
Blake Hinsdale, Troy Larson (4) and Jake Sculley. Cooper VanLuchene and Seth Green.
BITTERROOT - Colby Kohlman 0-3, Jesse Sage 0-2, Scully 0-1, Brendan Schneiter 0-2, Zack Christopherson 0-2, Scully 1-2, Chance Schmitt 0-2, Caden Zaluski 0-2, Johnny Lineback 0-1.
BELGRADE (39-15) - Lane Neill 0-2, Cole Thomas 2-2 (2 2B), Green 2-2, Coby Richards 1-3 (2B), Mason Jacobsen 0-2, VanLuchene 1-2, Keaton Carter 0-2, Aidan Kulbeck 0-2, Isaiah Brandhorst 1-2.