MISSOULA – Missoula Mavericks pitcher Dylan Barkley tried to give manager Brent Hathaway the trophy. Hathaway wouldn’t take it, but at Barkley’s insistence — “It’s for you, coach” — he took the trophy from his affectionately joking pitcher.
“It’s just, nobody wants to lug that thing out of here because it’s so big,” Hathaway said moments later in the dugout at Ogren-Allegiance Park. “I don’t even know where it’s at now.”
The Mavs would’ve been more excited with the trophy had it been the American Legion Northwest Regional championship trophy. But this was the runner-up award the Mavs got after dropping a season-ending 6-5 decision to Idaho on a walk-off hit Sunday.
The loss ended their quest to become the first team from Montana in 55 years to advance to the American Legion World Series. Instead, the 1962 Billings Royals managed by Ed Bayne will continue to be who future Montana teams try to match.
The loss ends a season that saw the Mavs exceed beyond their own expectations. They won the state tournament as the No. 3 seed and started 3-0 at regionals before dropping their last two and finishing as the runner-up.
“They played their hearts out, and they left everything on the field,” said Hathaway, who was coaching the Mavs in a regional final for the first time since 1994. “Hell, we don’t have any regrets. We’re proud of the season that we had. The only sad part is that it comes to an end and you don’t get to see them tomorrow.”
Idaho’s victory completed its magical run through regionals as it won five games in a row, including two Sunday, after dropping its opener to Washington. AJ Davis was named the tournament MVP for hitting .500 (14-for-28) and throwing 10 innings, including the first 7 2/3 of the title game.
The Mavs had the regional title and berth into the World Series in their sights heading into the bottom of the ninth with a 5-4 lead. Starting pitcher Ryan McHugh had gotten a pair of timely double plays in the seventh and eighth innings to erase some of the 12 hits he allowed, but Idaho started finding holes in the ninth.
Luke White tied the game with a one-out double that drove in Alex Light, who led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk and a single to load the bases, Daniel Robinson drove home White on a single to left field. The Mavs didn’t commit any errors or issue unintentional walks.
“We’re a team that’s had its ups and downs,” McHugh said, reflecting on the season. “We’re very young. A lot of young kids stepped up the whole year. As a group, we came together these last three weeks and put everything we needed together to get that state championship and to play the best baseball we have all year these past two weeks.”
For Barkley, although he said he likes to joke around with the coaches, watching the ninth inning was different than normal.
“I was definitely on the edge of my seat there,” Barkley said. “That was definitely one of the toughest things I had to sit through. … I’ve never really been moved to tears by baseball, and today was the one exception.”
The Mavs had taken a 5-3 lead in the eighth inning when Spencer Schock drove in Tradd Richardson and Nick Yovetich with a two-out, two-run double to left-center field. It was his biggest hit in his 4-for-5 performance, which included an RBI single and scoring on a wild pitch.
“As soon as I hit that ball, I was like, ‘This is ours,’” Schock said. “Actually, really, I thought this was ours from the moment we stepped on the field (for the first inning). There was a sense of calmness and of ‘We’ve been here before’ because this was the same position we were in at state. I thought we had it this whole entire time, and they just took it from us at the end.”
It was the Mavs’ second loss to Idaho in less than 20 hours after dropping a 6-5 affair in 15 innings on Saturday night.
“This was a great year,” Hathaway said. “It’s a little bit tender right now because it just ended, but when these guys look back on 2017, they’re going to say ‘Hell, what a run.’ It was awesome.”