MISSOULA — The Missoula Mavericks not only competed with powerhouse Vauxhall Academy, but they took a lead into the final inning.
However, a disastrous seventh inning, five Missoula runners stranded in scoring position and another Mav thrown out at the plate negated Dane Fraser’s stellar outing on the mound Monday at Ogren-Allegiance Park. The result was a 5-2 loss to the Vauxhall Jets (33-5-2) in the title game of the Memorial Day American Legion baseball tournament.
“It kind of proves to ourselves what we’re capable of doing when we play the game correctly,” Missoula manager Brent Hathaway said after the Mavs fell to 15-12 on the season but played Vauxhall closer than they did in a 12-0 loss to the Jets earlier in the tournament. “Dane did throw extremely well against more than likely the best team we’ll see all year.
“We let a couple opportunities slip away and made a couple mistakes. Against a team like that, it always costs you. The overall picture there is that we can compete with a real high-level club if we don’t beat ourselves.”
Vauxhall Academy, a boarding school in Alberta that features players from across Canada, scored four times in the top of the seventh inning to erase a 2-1 deficit. The Jets sent nine batters to the plate, chased Fraser from the mound when they tied the game and scored the rest of their runs off of reliever Drew Stensrud.
Fraser, who took the loss, limited Vauxhall to three runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings while striking out five and walking three. It was an encouraging outing by Fraser, who had offseason surgery after tearing the UCL in his pitching elbow, because the Jets had scored at least eight runs in each of their four pool-play games in the tournament.
“He competes hard,” Vauxhall manager Les McTavish said of Fraser. “He threw inside really well. Over the tournament, everybody’s been pitching us away, away, away. He doesn’t give you anything. He threw strikes. He competed. He pitched in.
“There’s no secret that we’ve been scoring a lot of runs this weekend. If you can throw inside, you can tame everybody. All the credit to him. He was really, really good today. Hats off to him. We luckily got to him late.”
Fraser found a groove after allowing early baserunners, retiring nine hitters in a row from the third through sixth innings. The streak started when Max Grant lined into an unassisted double play turned by second baseman Thomas Martin. Fraser induced a groundout to end the top of the third and escape what had been a bases-loaded jam with no outs in a scoreless ball game.
The streak ended when Fraser issued a one-walk in the sixth. The next batter grounded into a potential inning-ending double play, but the throw pulled the first baseman off the bag. That runner would score the Jets’ first run. Fraser returned for the seventh but was pulled when he gave up a game-tying, one-out double to Johnny Vulcano on his 100th pitch. Grant then put the Jets ahead with an RBI double against Stensrud.
“We ran out of room for the pitch count because those mistakes run your pitch count up. So we had to get Dane out of there,” Hathaway said about the limit of 105 pitches. “We lost the lead and there was no point in running (the count) up any higher. We’re just trying to be careful with his arm.”
The Mavs broke through with their first hit in a two-run fourth inning during which they sent seven players to the plate. Brendon Hill drew a bases-loaded walk to push across the first run and chase starting pitcher Chase Florendine.
Martin followed by singling up the middle to drive in Stensrud and give Missoula a 2-0 lead. Sam Bucy, who had the Mavs’ first hit, was thrown out at the plate by center fielder Evan O’Toole on Martin’s single. O’Toole fired the ball to the catcher without a hop and in perfect position to tag out a late-sliding Bucy.
“He’s probably our hardest thrower on the mound,” McTavish said. “So, it went to the perfect guy, and it was the perfect throw.”
The Mavs got their first baserunner in the third inning and put runners on second and third with one out but couldn’t push across a run. Dayton Bay was picked off at second base, and Bridger Johnson grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
Missoula stranded an insurance run at third base in the bottom of the sixth as it tried to up its 2-1 lead. Tradd Richardson reached on a hit by pitch, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, but a strikeout and groundout left him standing there.
“I enjoy games like that because there wasn’t mistakes that cost anybody,” McTavish said. “We made some timely hits. They made some big pitches. We made some big pitches. That’s the way you want it to end up.”
Mavs 8, Great Falls 3
In the final game of pool play, the Mavs jumped all over Great Falls starting pitcher Hunter Houck, taking a 7-0 lead through two innings on their way to an 8-3 win in which they scored five unearned runs.
Missoula’s Stewart Long, Hill and Richardson collected two hits apiece. Long tallied a game-high three RBIs, collecting all of them when he smashed a triple to left-center field to give the Mavs a 4-0 lead in the first inning.
Mavs pitchers Parker Stevens, Connor Daniels and Long combined to limit the Chargers to four hits while walking six, striking out six and stranding 10 runners on base.