MISSOULA — After Missoula Mavericks senior Dane Fraser had offseason elbow surgery, he focused on getting back into pitching form.
Regaining his approach at the plate was also an important piece. Fraser had continued to bat last season after the UCL injury, but he needed time to work into the new right elbow this year.
So far, so good for Fraser, who ranks near the top of the team in multiple offensive categories 33 games into the season. He continued that success by coming up clutch and nearly hitting for the cycle in the Mavs’ nonconference doubleheader sweep of the Butte Miners on Sunday at Lindborg-Cregg Field.
“I think the season’s going way, way better than last year,” Fraser said of his batting after the Mavs improved to 20-13 with 7-1 and 6-1 wins. “Last year, I went up there trying to kill it. This year, I just go up and don’t try to overdo it. Just trust my eyes, trust my hands.
“I just thought about last year a ton, just realized that a lot of it was me trying to do too much at the plate trying to be the hero. It’s not the biggest deal if you don’t get a hit. Just go up there and do your best every time with your approach.”
Fraser went 4 for 6 across the doubleheader with two singles, one double, one triple, three RBIs, one run scored, one walk and one hit by pitch. His most important hit came when he ended Peyton Hettick’s no-hitter in the fifth inning of game one with a two-run triple that broke a 1-1 tie, jumpstarted a six-run frame and proved to be the winning hit.
Up 3-1 in the count, Fraser sat on a fastball, got that pitch and crushed the ball to the 410-foot wall in center field, driving in Dayton Bay and Bridger Johnson for a 3-1 lead.
“That at-bat, I feel like he couldn’t locate his curveball, which was helping me out for sure,” Fraser said. “I had it 3-1, so I was expecting fastball, and right when I saw it, I just swung.”
The Mavs added four more runs in the frame to take a 7-1 lead. Tradd Richardson followed with an RBI sacrifice fly, Beau King got an RBI fielder’s choice and Andrew Claussen came up with a two-out, two-run double.
“I think the middle of their lineup is really good. They hit the ball really well,” Butte coach Jeff LeProwse said. “You got to give credit to Dane because we’ve played him a lot the last couple years and he’s just a great hitter. You got to work really hard to get him out.”
Hettick finished with seven runs allowed on three hits and two walks in five innings. Before the six-run fifth, he located his off-speed pitches to keep the Mavs off balance and limit them to one run, which came in the second inning when Beau King and Andrew Claussen pulled off a double steal of home and second, respectively.
“We hit some balls fairly solid right at people. Sometimes they find a hole. Sometimes they don’t,” Mavs manager Brent Hathaway said. “He did a nice job, kept us down for a long time.”
Mavs starting pitcher Parker Stevens allowed one run and scattered three singles across six innings before Connor Daniels closed out the seventh. The lone run Stevens gave up came when Casey Kautzman had a two-out RBI single in the third inning that drove in Hunter Bunni to tie the game, 1-1.
In the second game, Brendon Hill limited Butte to one run on three hits in 3 2/3 innings, giving up an RBI single to Aiden Lee in the fourth inning. Dylan Chalmers, Zach Hangas and Thomas Martin pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief. The quartet struck out 11 batters.
Butte starter Ryan Burt and reliever Wolfgang Doty gave up three runs each. Hill legged out an inside-the-park home run, Martin collected a two-run single and Fraser had an RBI single. Two runners scored on wild pitches.
Butte, which moved down to Class A this season, played the Mavs closer than its 20-4 and 8-0 losses earlier in the season.
“I think we’ve improved a lot since the first two times we played them,” LeProwse said. “That’s a credit to our pitchers today. I thought we pitched really well. Missoula, they’re just a solid team top to bottom. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. It’s fun for us to play them and give our guys a challenge.”
The Mavs will look to improve upon their 3-0 conference record when they host Bozeman and Kalispell in a doubleheader at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It’s the first time in Hathaway’s 29 years as manager that Missoula will play a conference doubleheader against two different teams. He’s hoping to see the team have more energy than this weekend, which was graduation.
“We looked like a team that had taken a couple days off and there was a lot of graduation celebrating with family in town and a lot of attention and emotion,” Hathaway said. “To me, we looked pretty flat today. But it wasn’t a game that had any type of significance. It wasn’t conference, but we got by them. Tuesday’s a huge day for us. We got Kalispell and Bozeman in here, so hopefully we’re a little sharper and a bit more intense.”