THREE FORKS — Really, Johnny Graham didn’t have to say much to his team prior to Saturday’s doubleheader. Players were already well aware of what was at stake at Imerys Field.
A sweep of longtime rival Gallatin Valley would secure a second straight Southern A conference title for Belgrade and the No. 1 seed heading into this week’s district tournament.
Both teams entered the day tied atop the league standings with 15-3 records, but Belgrade posted a pair of 7-2 victories to claim a second consecutive conference crown.
“This is a fun group. I’ve said it a thousand times, but they care about each other, they care about the team,” Graham, who is Belgrade’s coach, said. “They’re easy to coach and very proud of them. Next goal now. It starts over on Thursday, but good job by these guys.”
Gallatin Valley was forced to settle for the second seed on a day in which the team’s three seniors were honored.
“It’s like we forgot to play the game of baseball today,” said Outlaws coach Duwayne Scott. “We didn’t give our best effort, I didn’t think, that’s for sure.”
Coby Richards set the tone in the opener for Belgrade, striking out the first three batters he faced. Richards went on to toss a 4-hitter and struck out five to avenge a loss to Gallatin Valley on July 14.
Easton Page earned the victory in Game 2, scattering seven hits and striking out two.
“I was really proud of them. Neither of them had a great performance last Saturday against these guys. So I was proud of them and (pitching) coach (Joel) Barnett,” said Graham. “He was out of town and got back, and had just a couple days to work with these guys down in the pen and he found a couple things. They got those things righted and they threw like they have really all year long today.”
Belgrade (46-10, 17-3) never trailed in the opener after scoring a run in the top of the first and then adding four more in the second. Brandon Mathews led the charge, finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Colton Charnholm and Richards hit doubles.
Missed opportunities were theme of the day for Gallatin Valley, which trimmed the deficit to 5-1 in the fourth on an RBI-blooper to right by Hunter Johnson. But the Outlaws left runners stranded at second and third, and then blew a couple of key offensive opportunities in Game 2.
“It was just bad baseball today. Hopefully we got our bad baseball out of the way before districts and next weekend we can play some clean baseball,” said Scott. “This season’s over. Now it’s time to move on to the next season and see what happens.”
Ryan Murphy was doubled up at first to end the first inning after Johnson had flown out to right, and in the fifth the Outlaws only managed to score one run after getting two on base with no outs. Murphy smacked an RBI-single up the middle to give Gallatin Valley a 2-1 lead, but not before back-to-back strike outs by Derik DeFrance and Bo Hays.
Belgrade batted around the in sixth and chased Michael Jones off the hill en route to a taking a 6-2 lead. The Bandits twice scored on sacrifice bunts by Justin Riekenberg and Cole Thomas, something the team had also successfully executed in the opener.
“I’m very confident putting it on obviously in any count. I mean we’ll go in any count,” said Graham. “But that’s more or less a tip of the cap to the players because they have to execute whatever we’re putting on.”
Jones limited Belgrade to just six hits and struck out five, but he hit a batter to begin the sixth, walked two others and allowed three hits in the frame.
The Outlaws (34-23, 15-5) were in position to win the league title following a sweep of the Butte Muckers on Wednesday. Michael Jones hit a pair of doubles, and Brady Jones added another, as Gallatin Valley won the opener 14-4.
Kyle Lohrenz led the defense by tossing a 3-hitter and striking out three.
The Outlaws added four more doubles in Game 2 — by Thomas Carlson, Michael Nehring, Johnson and Jones — en route to a 9-3 victory.
Belgrade swept the Bozeman Bucks A squad 10-4 and 8-0 Thursday night to set up Saturday’s winner take all finale. Charnholm shut down the Bucks in the opener, tossing a 4-hitter and striking out eight in the victory.
Marcos Verdeja was equally impressive in Game 2, throwing a 4-hitter and striking out four.
“It sounds very cliche, but we wanted to control what we could control and wanted to play our game. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing really,” Graham said of Saturday’s approach to the twinbill. “But the preparation for this week was just let’s get back on the course and let’s stay the course, and they did that.”
Gallatin Valley 14, Butte 4
Butte 000 314 - 4 3 1
Gallatin Valley 220 82x - 14 15 2
Kian O’Neill, Kooper Klobucan (4) and n/a. Kyle Lohrenz, Robert Wolf (5) and n/a. W - Lorenz. L - O’Neill.
BUTTE (5-28) - Egan Lester 0-3, Christian Vetter 0-2, O’Neill 0-2, Klobucan 0-1, Carsen Dodge 0-2, Aiden Lee 1-2 (2B), Tanner Huff 0-3, Coyt Stajacar 0-1, Riley Chiotti 0-1, Reece Cox 0-1.
GALLATIN VALLEY (33-21) - Connor Johnson 2-3, Ryan Murphy 3-4, Derik DeFrance 1-3, Michael Nehring 2-3, Michael Jones 2-4 (2 2B), Kyle Grevious 1-3, Elias Dominguez 2-3, Brady Jones 1-1 (2B), Dalton Mitchell 1-2.
Gallatin Valley 9, Butte 3
Butte 200 010 0 - 3 7 4
Gallatin Valley 210 015 x - 9 6 2
Aiden Lee, Reece Cox (2), Brian Ogolin (6) and n/a. Caleb Kamerman, Derik DeFrance (6) and n/a. W - Kamerman. L - Cox. S - DeFrance.
BUTTE (5-29) - Egan Lester 1-4, Christian Vetter 1-1, Carson Dodge 1-3, Kian O’Neill 1-4, Lee 1-1, Cox 0-2, Tanner Huff 0-1, Casey Kautzman 0-3, Coyt Stajcar 0-3, Eric Hart 0-2, Bryan Holland 2-3 (2B), Brian Ogolin 0-2.
GALLATIN VALLEY (34-21) - Connor Johnson 0-2, Ryan Murphy 1-2, Hunter Johnson 1-2 (2B), Michael Nehring 1-2 (2B), Michael Jones 1-2 (2B), Kyle Grevious 1-3, Thomas Carlson 1-4 (2B), Elias Dominguez 0-3, DeFrance 0-0, Dalton Mitchell 0-4.
Belgrade 10, Bozeman 4
Belgrade 024 010 3 - 10 10 3
Bozeman 040 000 0 - 4 4 4
Colton Charnholm, Tanner Stephenson (6) and Seth Green. Aidan Jarrett, Samuel Schmidt (7) and Alton Gyselman. W - Charnholm. L - Jarrett.
BELGRADE (43-10) - Easton Page 0-1, Brandon Mathews 0-4, Charnholm, Justin Riekenberg 2-3 (2B), Cole Thomas 1-1, Coby Richards 3-4 (2B), Green 2-2, Marcos Verdeja 0-2, Stephenson 0-0, Jake Klonsinski 1-3.
BOZEMAN (37-14) - Parker McMan 1-3, Gyselman 1-2, Brooks Talbot 0-2, Ethan Faure 1-3, Carsten Simcox 0-3, Branden Tarabochia 0-1, Liam Bailey 0-2, Preston Fileman 0-1, Ethan Coleman 0-3, Wyatt Amende 1-3, Brady Higgs 0-2.
Belgrade 8, Bozeman 0
Belgrade 201 003 2 - 8 9 2
Bozeman 000 000 0 - 0 4 3
Marcos Verdeja and Seth Green. Brady Higgs, Preston Flieman (6) and Alton Gyselman. W - Verdeja. L - Higgs.
BELGRADE (44-10) - Easton Page 1-4 (2B), Brandon Mathews 1-3, Colton Charnholm 0-2, Justin Riekenberg 0-3, Cole Thomas 2-4, Coby Richards 1-2, Green 1-3, Isaiah Brandhorst 2-3, Jake Klonsinski 1-1 (2B).
BOZEMAN (37-15) - Parker McMan 1-4, Gyselman 0-2, Brooks Talbot 0-2, Ethan Faure 0-3, Liam Bailey 0-3, Fischer Harris 1-3, Carsten Simcox 0-3, Wyatt Amende 1-3, Samuel Schmidt 1-1 (2B).
Belgrade 7, Gallatin Valley 2
Belgrade 140 020 0 - 7 9 2
Gallatin Valley 000 110 0 - 2 4 1
Coby Richards and Seth Green. Michael Nehring, Robert Wolf (6) and Kyle Grevious. W - Richards. L - Nehrings.
BELGRADE (45-10) - Easton Page 1-3, Brandon Mathews 3-4, Colton Charnholm 2-3 (2B), Justin Riekenberg 1-3, Cole Thomas 0-3, Richards 1-3 (2B), Green 1-3, Marcos Verdeja 0-3, Jake Klonsinski 0-2.
GALLATIN VALLEY (34-22) - Connor Johnson Johnson 0-2, Ryan Murphy 0-3, Hunter Johnson 1-3, Nehring 0-3, Thomas Carlson 0-1, Wolf 0-1, Kyle Grevious 0-2, Derik DeFrance 1-3, Brady Jones 1-3, Dalton Mitchell 1-3.
Belgrade 7, Gallatin Valley 2
Belgrade 000 105 1 - 7 6 1
Gallatin Valley 010 100 0 - 2 8 2
Easton Page, Tanner Stephenson (5) and Seth Green. Michael Jones, Thomas Carlson (6) and Hunter Johnson, Kyle Grevious (7). W - Stephenson. L - Carlson.
BELGRADE (46-10) - Page 0-2, Brandon Mathews 1-4, Colton Charnholm 1-2, Justin Riekenberg 1-3, Cole Thomas 1-3 (2B), Coby Richards 0-3, Green 0-3, Marcos Verdeja 1-2, Stephenson 1-1, Jake Klonskinski 0-2.
GALLATIN VALLEY (34-23) - Connor Johnson 0-2, Ryan Murphy 1-3, H. Johnson 0-3, Michael Nehring 1-3, Michael Jones 2-4, Thomas Carlson 1-3, Derik DeFrance 2-2, Dalton Mitchell 1-3, Bo Hayes 0-2, Grevious 0-1.