With district tourney trophy in hand, Mavs seek state title

Abe Winter
Star Staff Writer

Now there are eight. And the Miles City Mavericks are one of them.

The Mavericks, 25-18, close out their 2017 in-state season by playing in the State Class A American Legion baseball tournament starting Thursday morning in Three Forks. The tourney winner advances to a regional in Eugene, Oregon.

The tourney in Three Forks has an international flavor with the Medicine Hat Knights, the North District runner-up, joining the fray. In fact, that’s the opponent for Miles City in the first round at 9 a.m.

The other first round matchups have the Lewistown Redbirds facing the Billings Cardinals at 11:30 a.m.; the Belgrade Bandits playing the Kalispell Lakers A at 2 p.m., and the Bitterroot Red Sox meeting the Gallatin Valley Outlaws at 5 p.m.

If the Mavericks win, they play at 2 p.m. Friday against the Belgrade-Kalispell winner. If the Mavericks lose, they play at 9 a.m. Friday against the Belgrade-Kalispell loser.

The tourney is double-elimination. Two teams will be eliminated both Friday and Saturday, and at least one Sunday.

The Mavericks go into the state tourney on a high note, much to the delight of coach Jake Mills.

“The hard part is getting there,” Mills said after winning the Eastern A title. “We accomplished that and we’re playing with nothing to lose and that’s a tough team to beat, a scary team to play against.”

His team had its ups and downs in the district, scoring 15 runs in one game and totaling 13 in the other four games in going 4-1 in the district.

“We pitched and played defense all weekend long,” Mills said, adding that after the 15-9 victory over top-seeded Laurel “the runs were few and far between.”

But they scored enough to beat the Billings Cardinals two out of three after going 1-3 against them in conference play. That included two 10-run routs in Billings and a split at Connors Stadium.

The Mavericks won’t be short of confidence now that they’ve qualified for the Class A tourney for the first time. Remember, they were Class AA when they won their last state title in 1996.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going into it,” said Jared Bellows, who is hoping to play next season at Miles Community College. “I think we should make some noise over there.”

His brother, Jess Bellows, who delivered the game-winning walk-off double in Monday’s showdown with the Cardinals, can’t wait to take the field in Three Forks.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I think we’re going to do well. We’re still coming together. We’ve come a long way as a team.”

The key for the Mavericks may be their pitching, and specifically the ability to avoid walks and hit batters.

“Just pound the zone and keep the defense in it,” Mills said. “Nothing quite takes a defense out of the game as back to back walks. If we can shut that down, the defense will definitely stay in the game.

“During the season we were able to score a lot of runs and to be able to flip the identity for a couple of days, we were still able to stay in games.”

He knows very little about Medicine Hat.

“We’re going to treat them like their they’re the best team in state,” he said. “We won’t look past any team.”

He isn’t certain who will start on the mound against the Albertans. Clay Prell threw the first game against Glasgow and Deven Doughty started the title game in the district tourney. Cameron Muri relieved in the two wins over the Cardinals.

“I don’t know yet. I didn’t think on it too much,” said Mills, who will study the pitch counts from the district before knowing who is eligible to pitch.

“I’ve got four or five arms who pitch well for us and make an impact and keep us in the game,” Mills said.

(Contact Abe Winter at starcity@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)