FLORENCE — The names on the Bitterroot Bucs' lineup card on Day 4 of the Montana American Legion Baseball State A Tournament matched the ones from Day 1 of the tourney last Saturday.
But the Bucs sure looked different on Tuesday.
The very Bitterroot squad that lost by a 10-run mercy rule to the Laurel Dodgers in the two teams' tournament opener eliminated the same Laurel squad from state contention, 4-1.
Blake Hinsdale's, four-hit, complete-game shutout put an exclamation point on an improbable run for the Bucs — the West's No. 2 seed at state, by way of an automatic bid from hosting the tournament in Florence.
"Blake was incredible man, every pitch he had he was throwing for strikes," Bitterroot coach Austin Nogle said of Hinsdale, who had seven strikeouts against just one walk. "He was keeping guys off balance, blowing it by some guys and getting them to hit in the air."
But Hinsdale had one final heart-stopping tight rope to walk in the top of the seventh inning.
The Dodgers loaded the bases with a pair of singles from Cash Golden and Canu Golden, and a two-out walk to Colton Ludwig loaded the bases with two outs.
Up stepped Laurel's do-everything-well leadoff hitter Deklan Harper.
"It's nerve racking there. We debated walking him with the bases loaded and give them a run, but we had faith in our guy," Nogle said.
Hinsdale rewarded that trust with a strikeout, his seventh of the game, to complete the seven-inning start.
"The kid pitched with his heart the last inning there. He said here it is boys and we had the right guy up and (Hinsdale) got him out," Laurel coach Doug Studiner said. "We had the right guy up and (Harper) battled, but he just got beat on a fastball, and that's life."
To Harper's credit, he had a heckuva game. The college freshman pitched 4.2 innings and struck out six. He also added an incredible outfield assist that flew from the warning track to the plate and cut down Bitterroot's Zack Christopherson trying to score.
The monster throw likely traveled 300 feet in the air and it ended the home half of the fifth.
But not before the Bucs would score the go-ahead run on a Jake Scully single that scored Hinsdale and the two more insurance runs on a Drew Scully pinch-hit double. Harper's throw kept Scully's drive from being a 3-RBI swat.
"Full credit to the Bucs organization, they played a whale of a game, battled this far back and they get to play on championship day," Studiner said.
Bitterroot's tournament run into Wednesday seemed improbable at the start of the five-day State A on Saturday. The Bucs finished last in the West A and dropped their first two games at the West A District tournament a little more than a week ago.
But Hinsdale said the team's mentality changed after a 16-6 loss to the Dodgers on Saturday.
"We're having fun with it. We're confident in ourselves, trusting in each other and we're just playing great ball," Hinsdale said.
Nogle echoed his pitcher's statement.
"We feel like our regular season wasn't (indicative) of the team that we are," Nogle said. "They came in here feeling like they had something to prove and they're doing it now. It's fun to watch them do it."
It's a run that started Sunday with a 14-4 win over Lewistown on Sunday, a stellar pitching performance from Colby Kohlman and relief effort from Zack Christopherson and offense up and down the lineup. Graduating Florence senior Johnny Lineback, who is 3-for-6 hitting with three walks, four RBIs and three runs across the tournament, said in the dugout midway through Sunday's game that, "nobody can beat this team right now."
He may be right.
"We're just tired of losing. We were on an eight-game losing streak there, we come into this tournament on our home field and get blown away the first day, we just had enough," Lineback said. "We're a new baseball team."
The Bucs will either play Vauxhall in the championship game Wednesday or the Gallatin Valley Outlaws in another loser-out semifinal pending Tuesday's late semifinal.
Monday: Bitterroot Bucs 9, Mission Valley Mariners 8, loser out
It was the Mission Valley Mariners that played both the role of spoiler in winning the Montana American Legion West A District Tournament more than a week ago as the conference's sixth seed.
On Day 3 of the Montana American Legion Class A State Tournament Monday, however, the Mariners were eliminated by the streaking Bucs. The host team from Florence and tourney underdogs topped the Mariners, 9-8, to get into Tuesday's semifinal.
It was a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning from Lineback that drove in Brendan Schneiter and gave the Bucs the go-ahead run. And it was Schneiter who kicked things off for his Bitterroot boys, too.
Schneiter hit a solo home run to open a two-run second inning, helping the Bucs gain a brief 2-0 lead. But neither team held momentum long Monday, as Mission Valley's Eric Dolence followed with a three-run blast of his own in the top of the third, giving the Mariners a 4-2 lead after two and a half innings.
"I'm thinking OK, now we gotta a little momentum — there was a lot of momentum changes back and forth that game. It was just a fantastic game," Mission Valley's second-year skipper Tim Rausch said. "I'm so proud of these boys... We have just three seniors and two of them have the opportunity to come back (next season) and there's no better experience for those young guys than being here.
"I'm so proud of what these guys did this year."
All the Mariners did was knock off the West's top two teams in the Bitterroot Red Sox and the Glacier Twins at Districts to earn the West's top seed at state.
But it was the West's No. 2 seed — the Bucs, who earned their berth to state by way of hosting the tournament — who couldn't be stopped Monday.
Bitterroot answered Mission's four-run third with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Colby Kohlman had the big swing of the bat in that frame for the Bucs, a two-run shot over the left field wall that scored Blake Hinsdale.
Mission's Dawson Dumont hit a two-RBI triple in the top of the fourth, part of a three-run inning that saw the Mariners retake the lead, 7-5. They added on in the fifth with a long single from Trevor Lake, to make it 8-5. But Christopherson, in relief for the Bucs for the second day in a row, managed to keep the damage to just one run despite facing a bases loaded, no-out situation.
The Bucs built on that energy with a two-RBI double from No. 9 hitter and senior Brendan Bailey in the bottom of the sixth to close Bitterroot's deficit to one, 8-7.
"I just had to clear (my mind). I had been struggling a little bit, but it's state. You just have to come focused for every play," Bailey said. "I just knew I had to get it done for my teammates."
Another shutdown inning from Christopherson set up a game-tying base hit from Schneiter and the eventual game-winning sac fly. Christopherson closed the door from there, setting up Hinsdale's gem on Tuesday.