It was still early in the contest, but Belgrade had an opportunity to gain some much needed momentum Saturday morning. Missed offensive opportunities, however, doomed the team in a season-ending loss in Lewistown.
The Bandits scored twice in the bottom half of the first at the Montana-Alberta Class A State Tournament, but were unable to add on to the early lead. Gallatin Valley tied the game in the sixth and then scored four times in the seventh en route to a 6-2 victory.
Belgrade manager Johnny Graham noted that errors combined with walks proved to be the team’s downfall late in the contest.
“They usually lead to a big inning,” he said. “We had a shot of getting out of there with one run given (up) in the seventh, which would have made it a much different challenge in the bottom half, and they added on with some singles.”
Gallatin Valley (32-26) capitalized on three walks and an error, and also strung together four consecutive singles en route to turning a tied game into a four-run lead. Brody Ayers had an RBI single and scored on an error, while the other two runs came on bases loaded walks by Bandits pitcher Evan Hamberger.
Belgrade went down in order in the bottom half of the frame, and never really got going after the early scores. Caleb Kamerman scattered five hits and struck out five in earning the victory on the mound.
“We just weren’t very good offensively today. We were under a lot of balls, we struck out way too many times,” said Graham. “Some things that we typically do really well we didn’t execute very well today.”
Lane Neill was hit by a pitch to begin the bottom half of the first, and then Cole Thomas reached base on an infield single. Both scored a short time later.
“We scored first, which is good obviously. But we had a chance to extend the lead early in the game and we didn’t,” said Graham. “We left those runs on the bases and can’t do that.”
In the second, the Bandits got runners on first and third with no outs following a lead off double by Aidan Kulbeck, but failed to score and left runners stranded at second and third.
“If we extend there early in the game and make it 3-0, 4-0 or maybe more, you never know, and then things get contagious. Then the guys can relax,” said Graham. “Loser’s bracket play is difficult because I imagine with high school aged guys that in the back of their mind is very clear that a loss finishes the season. So extending early on was important, and quite honestly necessary, and we failed to do it. And it was right there for us.”
Kulbeck and Neill each hit a double, while Coby Richards tossed a 2-hitter and struck out eight in five-plus innings of work on the mound. Thomas and Hamberger combined to allow five hits, four walks and four runs in relief over the final two innings.
While disappointed with the loss, Graham was pleased with his young team’s overall performance in a season that was nearly cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Bandits finish with a 39-17 record and only have three seniors.
“We got to have a season and with as many sophomores as we have on this roster, them getting this season in was really important. And getting that development and growth is really important. That doesn’t happen if the year gets cancelled due to Covid,” Graham said. “Being at state, state’s got a different vibe to it, and being in that thing that’s important too. Because if all of these guys come back that can come back, they’ve been there. They can check that off the list, they’ve been there, done that.”
State A Tournament
Belgrade 10, Bitterroot 0
Billings 9, Havre 2
Glacier 10, Gallatin Valley 9
Lewistown 4, Miles City 2
Bitterroot 18, Havre 13, loser-out
Gallatin Valley 7, Miles City 6, loser-out
Billings 6, Belgrade 1
Lewistown 9, Glacier 6
Gallatin Valley 6, Belgrade 2
Bitterroot 5, Glacier 3
Billings 17, Lewistown 5
Gallatin Valley 11, Bitterroot 10
Lewistown 10, Gallatin Valley 1, third
Billings 11, Lewistown 1, champ
Gallatin Valley 6, Belgrade 2
Gallatin Valley 000 011 4 - 6 7 2
Belgrade 200 000 0 - 2 5 6
Caleb Kamerman and Brandon Beedie. Coby Richards, Cole Thomas (6), Evan Hamberger (7), Caleb Hoppe (7) and Seth Green.
GALLATIN VALLEY (32-26) - Trevor Doud 0-3, Josh Wisecarver 1-3, Bo Hays 1-3, Cyrus Richardson 0-1, Brody Ayers 1-3, Isaac Richardson 1-3, Beedie 2-4, Austin Devers 0-4, Mayson Shively 0-4.
BELGRADE (39-17) - Lane Neill 1-2 (2B), Cole Thomas 1-3, Green 0-4, Richards 0-3, Mason Jacobsen 0-2, Cooper VanLuchene 1-3, Aidan Kulbeck 1-3 (2B), Alex Casas 1-2, Keaton Carter 0-1, Isaiah Brandhorst 0-2.