HELENA — Coming off their first sweep of the season on Sunday, the Helena Senators are winners of three of their four games and sit at 5-3 overall. That sweep, Helena’s first of the season, came against the Missoula Mavericks on the road and helped get the Senators back on track after a big loss to Kalispell last Saturday.
“Sunday was big because we didn’t play very well the last game on Saturday versus Kalispell,” Senators head coach Jon Burnett said. “It was big for the guys just to bounce back. We played relatively clean on defense, pitchers threw strikes, we executed some hit and runs and moved the ball around and played our type of baseball on Sunday. I would say for sure those are our best two back-to-back games we’ve put together this year.”
Helena took down Missoula 14-2 in the first game on Sunday behind a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort from Tyler Tenney and a strong performance from Victor Scott on the mound. The second game was more of a grind as the Senators saw a 6-3 lead evaporate in the sixth inning. For the second time in four games, however, Helena grabbed the lead on a wild pitch in the seventh inning and never looked back in a 7-6 win.
Now, heading into the first week of the season featuring a mid-week contest followed by a doubleheader on Saturday, the Senators are hoping the momentum from the sweep carries over.
“We definitely need to keep that momentum going,” Tenney said. “It all kinda starts with defense, playing behind our pitchers, trying to keep the errors to a minimum, keeping their pitch counts low and then making sure we’re barreling up everything.”
Barreling balls up has been no problem for Tenney through the season’s first eight games. To go along with his 4.04 ERA in 8.2 innings on the mound, Tenney is slashing .440/.563/.600/1.163 with two doubles, a triple and 13 RBI at the plate. Scott is not far behind those numbers, as he will enter Wednesday’s contest against Class A Gallatin Valley hitting .346 with an .802 OPS.
“Tyler and Victor Scott have kinda been our solid two-three, three-four hitters in the lineup everyday,” Burnett said. “RBI producers, able to use the entire field wherever the ball is pitched, they’ve been real good for us. Getting Matt Burton back this weekend was a huge boost because he’s not just a good baserunner, but a heck of a hitter and a leader out there, as well. We’re starting to see Trysten Mooney’s bat come around. He had a rough first week, but then he had five hits this last weekend.”
Collectively, the Senators are hitting .284 as a team, and as the weather gets consistently warmer and players continue to shake off rust from the off-season, Helena’s offensive numbers should only continue trending in a positive direction.
“It feels great to finally be out here playing, hopefully the weather gets nicer,” Tenney said. “It takes a little bit to get back into it. We always say we don’t want to be playing our best baseball right now, we want to be playing it by June and July.”
Between now and then, Helena is scheduled to play an extensive non-conference schedule, one that has the Senators playing Class A Gallatin Valley on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Kindrick Legion Field.
“They’re an A team, but we’ve seen them quite a bit because our guys have played a lot of those guys when they were on the Reps,” Burnett said of Gallatin Valley. “They’re always a solid A team, lots of older guys, good baseball players, good program down there. It’ll be a tough contest, they’ll come out and give us everything they have.”
This early in the season, with teams still yet to play each other for the first time, knowing exactly what to expect from an opponent can be tricky. The Senators have already played a team like Missoula four times this year, but with Wednesday’s opponent in the Outlaws and Saturday’s opponent in the Great Falls Chargers, there will be some new faces to become accustomed with.
Nevertheless, playing these teams, especially a conference opponent like Great Falls, at this point in the season gives the Senators an opportunity to chart the opposition and prepare for their tendencies later in the campaign.
“Great Falls, they’re a conference foe that we’re pretty familiar with,” Burnett said. “They did combine with that Electric City Baseball Academy last year, so there will be some new guys we haven’t seen yet. Kinda getting our first looks at them before we play them in conference a month or so from now.”
The Chargers will come into Saturday winners of four of their last five games and at 5-5 overall. Keeton Clark and Wesley Gilcher are both hitting at least .350 through 10 games, while Jacob Banderob has both of Great Falls’ two home runs in the early going. As a team, the Chargers are slashing .233/.398/.309/.707 thus far.
Helena views these non-conference games as tune ups before league play begins, and that means as the season deepens, mistakes should get cleaned up and the Senators’ brand of baseball should improve. Sunday’s sweep of Missoula was something as a first step toward that and now the coaching staff would like to see more games like that strung together, starting Wednesday against Gallatin Valley and continuing into the weekend.
“We had a good day Sunday, we hope to keep that up,” Burnett said. “We’re gonna focus a little more on the defensive aspect, playing clean baseball. I think that was our best two defensive games of the year, so we’re gonna try to just extend that and keep throwing strikes and keep getting those looks as hitters.”
The doubleheader between Helena and Great Falls is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Kindrick Legion Field with the second game to follow around 3:30 p.m.