State Legion Tournament has been full of surprises

Abe Winter
Star Columnist

There’s no certainty when trying to evaluate or predict the champion in the 2017 Montana-Alberta Class A State Tournament that started Thursday morning in Three Forks.

Heck, it wasn’t until a week ago that I knew Canadian teams could become the champions of Montana. But I guess with that title — Montana-Alberta — they should be eligible.

So, now that I know American Legion baseball has become an international sport, I am somewhat surprised after the Eastern A District champion Miles City Mavericks were thumped 12-2 in six innings by the Medicine Hat Knights from Alberta in the tourney’s opening game. And the Billings Cardinals, the runner-up from the Eastern A District, won 11-2 over Lewistown.

Go figure.

One thing is certain, though: No matter what happens in Three Forks, the Mavericks provided a lot of excitement last weekend in winning the title at Connors Stadium. I’m still shaking my head when remembering the hidden ball trick that may have produced the biggest out of the season on Saturday night against the Cardinals.

Pitcher Jess Bellows threw the ball to shortstop Anthony Regan. Then Regan, second baseman Clay Prell and center fielder Mason Dinardi went into action, pretending to be chasing the ball as more teammates shouted — both on the field and from the dugout.

Dinardi, meanwhile, held the ball and tagged the runner when he ventured off second, hoping to get to third. Instead of runners at first and second with none out, only the runner at first remained and the Mavericks got out of the jam and it remained 1-1.

They would, of course, go on to win 3-2 in nine innings to clinch their first Class A state tournament trip before splitting two games against the Cardinals on Sunday and Monday.

Yes, there was room for more fans in the stands, but there were more at the tournament games than any I attended all season.

The applause and cheers certainly were noticeable and maybe that helped the players in general and pitchers in particular in the postseason.

The Mavericks often win when their pitchers don’t walk or hit a lot of batters. The 10-walk 4-0 shutout of Glasgow eight days ago was a fluke. If they’d walked 10 against Laurel or the Cardinals, the Mavericks might not be in Three Forks this week.

Even the title game against the Cardinals started like many in the regular season. Three walks and a single and it was 1-0 and the Billings team seemed on the way to a crooked number, only to have starter Deven Doughty strike out the next two hitters and “escape” at 1-0.

He gave up only two more runs, both unearned, until being replaced by Cameron Muri, the unsung relief hero both Saturday and Monday. In the first matchup with the Cardinals, the Mavericks won despite a dropped foul popup and two dropped fly balls in the outfield.

In the title game, with the score knotted at 3 in the ninth inning, someone in the stands told a Miles City man that Jess Bellows was going to hit one to the Reynolds Market advertisement sign in right center. Bellows, of course, rapped a double one sign to the right, scoring Jacob Swope with the walk-off winning run.

Yes, it was me who made that prediction. You see, it was hot — about 95 — and I wanted the game to end.

Afterward, I thanked and congratulated Bellows, a freshman who will be around a long time.

Meanwhile, the shocker of the district was Laurel not qualifying for state, losing 15-9 to the Mavericks, then winning twice before falling 6-4 to the Cardinals to be eliminated.

“Laurel just didn’t show up,” said Miles City pitcher/infielder Nathan Zard, the hard-luck losing starter (3-2) on Sunday. “I think they thought they were going to kill everybody.”



Having only six teams for the Continental America Baseball Association (CABA) 14U World Series in Miles City certainly has to be a major disappointment for those who worked hard to get the bid for what was going to be a 16-team event.

It also started Thursday with four teams from Montana, one from Casper, Wyoming, and one from Seattle. Missing are qualifiers from several other states — four from California, two each from Colorado, Oregon and New Mexico, and now one from Wyoming, the latter being a late cancellation.

We’ll follow it from start to finish, hoping Miles City baseball followers get out and take a look at the product at both Connors Stadium and Tedesco Field. Things, I have been told, will be better next year. I hope so.

(Contact Abe Winter at or 406-234-0450.)