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Home » Baseball News

State A tourney starts in Lewistown

July 29, 2014
Northwest Montana A Conference



 

State A tourney starts in Lewistown

Mark D. Robertson 10:19 p.m. MDT July 28, 2014
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This week will be pretty special for Scott Sparks.

His Lewistown Redbirds will be hosting the first American Legion Class A state baseball tournament, but Fergus County’s seat may not have had the opportunity if Sparks’ brother, Ryan, hadn’t passed away two summers ago.

After Ryan’s death, Scott Sparks and Redbirds supporters made field lights a goal.

“The lights had always been a dream of his,” Sparks said. “… Now we’re reaping the benefits of them in hosting the state tournament.”

Sparks’ team, which he said is the youngest he’s ever coached, will hope to make some waves under their new lights. The facilities upgrade has energized the already baseball-crazed town.

“The nice thing about it is that Lewistown supports baseball really well,” Sparks said. “It’s always supported us really well. Playing under the lights has helped our crowds grow even more.”

The Redbirds will need that support to get by teams like Eastern A foe Laurel, winners of four of the last five state titles. With Lewistown hosting the tournament, Laurel had to win the Eastern A to just make the state tournament field this season. That wasn’t an easy task with other Class A powers like Glasgow – which took three of four regular season meetings from the Dodgers – and the Billings Blue Jays.

“It just made our road a little tougher,” first-year Laurel manager Doug Studiner said. “We couldn’t falter along the way.”

They didn’t, and the defending state champions are eyeing that trophy again in 2014.

In their way stand solid ballclubs from the Southern A and Western A divisions as well. The Gallatin Valley Outlaws edged the Belgrade Bandits for the top seed from the south.

Mission Valley’s Mariners, riding an eight-game win streak, took the Western conference title from the Glacier Twins, a team that boasted a 12-game bender earlier in the season.

The Mariners had a slow start this season but have found momentum late in the season. Six college-bound ballplayers can’t hurt.

“They’ve just started playing ball the way they’re supposed to and started believing in themselves a little bit,” Mission Valley manager Jami Hanson said.

The Mariners take on Belgrade in what looks to be the highlight of Tuesday’s first-round games.

Laurel opens up with a Medicine Hat team that ousted the Great Falls Electrics from the Northern A tournament last weekend. The Dodgers are favored again this year, but Studiner isn’t taking anything for granted.

“There’s no easy road through the state tournament,” the Laurel skipper said. “Anything can happen.”

Studiner, a long-time youth league coach in Laurel, said he likes his team’s chances, though.

“We’re feeling good. Our arms are healthy,” he said. “We give ourselves a fighting chance this week.”

The host Redbirds have a very winnable opener against Vauxhall at 7 p.m. Sparks hopes his young team – mostly 14 and 15-year-olds – can get a taste of victory on their home turf.

“We’re going to be back up to be one of those teams to beat over the next couple years,” Sparks said. “The experience of being in a state tournament could be really good.”

July 22’s season-ending Great Falls Tribune-Universal Athletic Legion Baseball Poll saw Glasgow, ousted by the Billings Blue Jays in the Eastern A semifinals, ranked first in the state. No. 2 Laurel took that district crown, and Gallatin Valley came in at No. 3, followed by No. 4 Belgrade. Mission Valley, at No. 6, was the only other ranked club to survive district tournament play.


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