MISSOULA — Perhaps no athlete in Montana has had a better year than Zach Hangas.
The Missoula Sentinel senior won his first state titles in football and golf in the fall and his second state title in hockey in the winter. He was first-team all-state as an offensive lineman in football and as a forward in hockey, and he was all-state in golf.
It’s a baseball state title that’s eluded him. And that’s the sport that he’s going to play at the next level at Cayuga Community College in Auburn, New York.
“That’s one of my biggest goals right now is to get a state championship in baseball,” Hangas said after the Missoula Mavericks, who last won a state title in 2017, split their doubleheader against the Glacier Twins on Sunday at Lindborg-Cregg Field in Missoula.
Missoula rallied for a 14-12 win in the first game and dropped a 12-11 decision in extra innings in game two as it blew a lead and came up just short in its comeback bid.
The Mavs are now 4-2 on the young season. It was their second doubleheader in two days as they split a pair against the always competitive Helena Senators on Saturday in Helena, losing 8-6 and winning 9-4. They had started the season with wins of 13-3 and 15-4 against the Great Falls Chargers last weekend.
“We’re early in the season, so we still got a lot of work to do,” Hangas said. “We’re still learning each other, how we’re going to play together. That’s the biggest thing with these games early in the season is just getting better, getting reps because at the end of the year is when we want to be playing our best baseball.”
Missoula has talent spread around the diamond with at least three other future college players. Skye Palmer has committed to Lassen Community College in Susanville, California. Henry Gibbs has committed to Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. Alex Certel has committed to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Junior pitcher Nolan McCaffery is someone who has Division I potential, Mavs manager Brent Hathaway said last year.
The Mavs have a plethora of players who know what it takes to have success from their time playing on Sentinel’s state championship football team and third-place basketball team or on the Missoula Bruins’ state championship hockey team earlier this school year. On the football team were Hangas, Dayton Bay, Charlie Kirgan, Adam Jones, Peyton Stevens and McCaffery. On the basketball team were Bay, Stevens and Palmer. On the hockey team were Hangas and Jones.
“In the long run, when situations get tough, that adversity hits, having that experience is going to be great for us,” Hangas said. “Multiple people have won state championships and know what it takes now, so if we can just get in rhythm here soon, then we can get going.”
Hangas took a no decision in the first game of the doubleheader Sunday. He pitched three scoreless innings before he left having given up five runs on eight hits while walking two and striking out three in four innings.
The Mavs rallied with nine runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to turn a 12-5 deficit into a 14-12 lead. They had two singles, one double, five walks and three hit by pitches as they sent 14 batters to the plate and Glacier committed two errors. Kirgan had a double, a triple and three RBIs, while Jones, Gibbs and Bay had two RBIs apiece.
In game two, the Mavs lost 12-11 in extra innings as they blew a 5-2 lead when they gave up three runs in the sixth inning. Tied 5-5, they allowed three bases-loaded walks, a three-run double and a run on a double steal in the eighth inning.
Missoula battled back in the bottom of the eighth with a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, a 3-run double by Mike Prather and an RBI triple by Andrew Claussen, all with two outs.
Prather finished with five RBIs for the Mavs, Claussen had two, while Palmer, Connor Jordan and Nick Beem had one apiece. Prather had kept the game tied 5-5 heading to the bottom of the seventh when he made a diving catch in right field for the third out to prevent the go-ahead run to score.
“As a pitcher myself, we just need to throw more strikes,” Hangas said. “Giving up 12 runs a game is not something that’s going to win it. But offensively, seeing us battle back is good to see, so we need to keep that going throughout the year.”
Former Mavs player Slade Heggen has returned to the team this season as an assistant alongside Hathaway and assistant Brian Moser.
Heggen, a 2014 Loyola grad, played for the Mavs for three years under Hathaway and was the top-ranked player in the state by Perfect Game as a senior. Heggen played 78 college games over three years at Oregon in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and two seasons at Gonzaga in 2018 and 2019.
Heggen had the opportunity to help coach after Trevor Subith left to take over as the Missoula Big Sky softball head coach. He’s just wrapping up his first year of law school at UM but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to the diamond for potentially one final season.
“I liked my experience with baseball, and then I was done with it, and it was abrupt,” Heggen said. “I’ve spent so much of my life doing this thing, it was my whole life when I was doing it. And then I had school. Now I got to be a human being and figure out what makes me happy as a human being, and I found that.
“Then this showed up in front of me, and I’m like, ‘This is great.’ And it is. Every time I start driving to the field after my day, I’m in a better mood the closer I get to the park. It was a little bit of ‘I might as well.’ It was served up on a platter in front of me, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do it and have a great summer.’”