HELENA — Twice in three games the Helena Senators have walked off the Bozeman Bucks and are now 2-1 against the defending Class AA State Champions in the early-going this season. Less than a week after Quinn Belcher singled to lift the Senators to victory, Helena rallied for two runs in the seventh inning to beat Bozeman 7-6 in game No. 1 of a triangular that included the Kalispell Lakers.
Trailing 6-5 heading into the last half of the seventh inning, Matt Burton kicked off the rally with a single and moved to second on an error. Burton got to third base on a wild pitch, and after Tyler Tenney walked and stole a base, Victor Scott lifted a ball into right field, plating a run and tying the game. One batter later, Tenney scored on a walk-off wild pitch to move the Senators to 3-2 on the season.
“Good at-bats out of our guys, those are the guys we want up in that situation,” Senators head coach Jon Burnett said. “Burton led-off for us all last year, so it was nice having him leading off there. Tyler and Victor, they’re very good with control at-bats, so even though they had a guy throwing a little more velocity at us, those are the two we want up in that situation. I thought they had some good approaches. Victor spraying the ball out to right field and allowing both guys to tag up was huge.”
In a game that featured five lead changes, the Senators managed just one hit through the first three innings, but scored in each of the game’s final four frames. Helena notched seven total hits in the win from seven different players and an RBI from four different players.
“We’re still trying to find our groove hitting,” Burnett said. “I would like to see us square a few more balls up early in that game, but we start hitting some balls harder at the end. I think it’s just early-season, we’re capable of it. The more looks we get, the more at-bats we get, I think we’ll get those bats to turn around, for sure.”
Just an RBI groundout from Tyler Tenney to their credit coming to bat in the fourth inning, Helena broke through in earnest with a Forrest Suero RBI single in the fourth and a two-RBI double by Tenney in the fifth frame to grab a 4-2 advantage over Bozeman.
Up a pair heading to the sixth inning, the Senators were looking for one more inning from Tenney on the mound. Through five innings, Tenney had allowed just an RBI sacrifice fly and a run-scoring ground out. In the sixth, however, Bozeman sent seven batters to the plate, seizing a 5-4 lead.
With runners on first and second and one out, Tenney got the ground ball he needed to get out of the inning, but the Senators could not turn the double play. Two doubles came immediately after, thrusting the Bucks back in front.
“He did good for us,” Burnett said of Tenney. “He wasn’t quite as sharp with his off-speed pitches as he usually is...Probably left him in one inning longer than we should have, got the first two outs pretty quick. It’s the kinda thing where I think we turn that double play if it’s a little later in the season and get him out of there before the damage comes, but he threw strikes and was around the plate and did everything we asked of him.”
Bozeman chased Tenney from the game in the sixth, and after the Bucks plated three runs in the frame, Hunter Bratcher shut the door for the Senators. In 5.2 innings pitched, Tenney scattered six hits and three walks, while striking out two and allowing five earned runs. At the plate, Tenney reached base three times, drove in three runs and scored another two runs.
Bratcher picked up the final four outs for the Senators, picking up the win, and also tied the game in the sixth inning with his RBI single before Helena needed to rally in the seventh.
For Bozeman, Dillon Coleman drove in two runs and scored another. Rhett Hays found his way on base twice with two walks, notched an RBI and scored a run, while Corbin Holzer went 1-for-3 with an RBI and run scored.
Bozeman starter Jackson Burke allowed three hits, two runs (one earned) and walked a batter over four innings while throwing 56.9 percent of his 58 pitches for strikes.
With their first game in the books, the Senators were spectators to an epic comeback by Kalispell against Bozeman in the middle game of the triangular on Saturday. Down eight runs in the last half of the seventh, Kalispell pushed across nine runs, downing the Bucks 12-11.
Laker infielder Ethan Diede launched a game-tying grand slam to left field just a couple batters ahead of where the eventual walk-off hit would come from.
“It felt pretty solid,” Diede said of his home run. “When I looked up, it looked pretty high off the bat, but I guess it had enough to get out. That was cool.”
Diede’s first career grand slam came at just the right moment for the Lakers, helping to erase what would have been a rather lopsided outcome.
“Smart at-bats by the whole team, it was a team effort,” Diede said. “When you’re in that situation, your goal is just to get it to the next batter and we did that, and with a little luck, it pays off.”
Maybe it was the momentum from that walk-off win or something else entirely, but in the third and final game of the day, Kalispell raced out to a 7-0 lead through three innings and never looked back, beating the Senators 14-2 in the last leg of the triangular on Saturday.
Eamon Burke was handed the ball for Helena, and though he lasted just three innings, he did not yield an earned run due to a handful of fielding errors behind him on what was a rainy and cold day at Kindrick Legion Field.
“I thought Eamon Burke threw great today for us...Every one of those runs were unearned,” Burnett said. “Would have loved to keep his pitch count low and saw how far he could get in the game. Fielding conditions kinda sucked out there, but that’s not an excuse, we gotta make plays behind our pitcher.”
Ten total errors were committed, five by each team, in a five-inning, run-rule shortened game. Kalispell logged 30-bats, pounded out 12 hits and had three players notch multi-RBI games.
Lakers shortstop Gage Brink was at the center of that, turning in a 2-for-4 game with five RBI, a walk and run scored. Left fielder Carver Van Aken had himself a 2-for-3 contest with three RBI and another two runs scored.
Kalispell sent a total of 12 players to the plate in a fourth inning where they scored seven times. The Senators responded with one run in each of the fourth and fifth innings, as Helena’s Trysten Mooney accounted for the team’s lone RBI in the contest.
Kostya Hoffman, Kalispell’s starter, tossed 86 pitches in 4.1 innings, allowing just four hits and two runs (one earned) while striking out five and walking four.
“We still have 60-plus games to go and not to dwell on it,” Burnett said of his message to his team postgame. “That’s the great thing about baseball is you get to turn around and have a fresh, new start tomorrow and another game. We’re going to go out and play hard in Missoula.”
After splitting their two games on Saturday, advancing to 3-3 on the season, the Senators hit the road for two games against the Missoula Mavericks on Sunday. First pitches are scheduled for 1 and 3:30 p.m.