Thursday, May 23, 2024

Cats take conference title, face Broncs to open state

| May 15, 2024 7:05 AM

Hungry Horse News

In just the second year of its program, the Columbia Falls baseball team won  the Northwest A crown last week with a 9-1 conference record and a 15-2 regular season record overall.

The Cats took the title by beating Eureka 6-2 on the road last Tuesday. They then came from behind to drop Polson 9-6 at the Sapa-Johnsrud tournament Friday in  a game that was ended by a time limit. On Saturday the paid back Whitefish for an earlier season loss and walloped the rival Bulldogs 15-1 at the Sapa-Johnsrud tourney at Glacier Bank Park in Kalispell.

Against Lincoln County on a decidely chilly night, the Wildcats were led by pitcher Kellen Kroger who struck out 12, giving up just four hits and two runs as he went the distance on the bump.

The game was tied 2-2 in the top of the sixth, when Kruger singled with two outs to drive in Reggie Sapa from second. Then Cody Schweikert hit a single to drive in a run to put the Cats up 4-2. The Cats then took advantage of three Lincoln County errors to load the bases. Sapa hit a sacrifice fly to drive in one run and Jett Pitts singled to drive in another to round out the scoring for the Wildcats.

At the Sapa-Johnsrud tourney at Glacier Bank Park it was about the experience as much as it was about baseball. It’s a beautiful and virtually brand new facility with top-of-the line artificial turf and a true Major League outfield — the wall at centerfield is 406 feet.

The Cats had a slow start against the Pirates, and found themselves down 6-4 after five innings, but in the bottom of the sixth, Sapa tripled to open the inning, and Nico Young drove him in on a hard single to center. Kroger reached base on an error and then Schweikert was hit by a pitch to load up the bases. Matt Mitts then singled to drive in Young. Catcher AC Chilson then singled to drive in Kroger. Pitts was hit by a pitch and Schweikert scored as the Cats were then up 8-6. Later in the inning Sapa hit a grounder but there was an error to drive in Mitts and that’s the way the game would end.

Mitts pitched four innings struck out two and gave up seven hits. Sapa pitched two innings of relief and gave up three walks, but no hits. Because the game was played at Glacier bank Park, there was time limit of two hours, so the game ended.

Against Whitefish the Cats left no doubt against the Bulldogs. They were up 7-1 after three and added seven more runs in the fourth to blow the game open.

Dawson Juntunen was great on the mound, giving up just two hits over four innings while striking out three. Pitts pitched an inning of relief.

Sapa had the hot bat again, with 4 RBIs. Schweikert had 3 RBIs, while Kroger, Young and Jace Hill had two apiece.

“It was a great experience for the kids,” coach Chad Green said. “What a performance by Dawson Juntunen on the mound.”

Against Polson Green knew it would be a tough game, as Polson is the defending state champions, but he was pleased they came back against the Pirates.

The Cats have been hitting the lights out of the ball lately and have five pitchers to choose from heading into the state tournament at Ogren Park in Missoula this weekend.

Kroger has been their ace, but Pitts, who is only a freshman, is throwing more than 80 mph.

The Cats open the tourney at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Hamilton. The Cats should be right in the mix for a state title, Green said, as there’s at least five teams that have a shot.

“There’s no easy road for us,” Green said.