MISSOULA — Facing one of the top teams in the state, the Missoula Mavericks split two games with the Helena Senators on Wednesday night at Lindborg-Cregg Field.
The Senators took the first, 13-3, while the Mavericks took the nightcap 10-5. It was the final two games of the season the Mavericks will have at home. Missoula is now 19-24 on the season and 8-12 in conference play and broke a seven-game slide.
“We’ve gone through a rough spell and honestly a lot of the things that we’ve dealt with have been self-inflicted,” Missoula manager Brent Hathaway said. “You saw that in the first game tonight … Mentally to get a win, it helps the players.”
Meanwhile the Senators, one of the few teams to beat Bozeman this year, is 31-14 on the year.
A loss on a trip to Coeur d’Alene started the slide for Missoula, which then continued as the Mavs dropped two games to Bozeman and three more to the Kalispell Lakers.
Missoula has eight regular-season games left, all on the road. The state tournament is set for August 5-9 in Helena.
A seven-run fourth inning for the Mavericks helped them finally get that elusive win. Ayden Markovich got the rally going with a single and was able to eventually score on a passed ball.
Pitches hit both Dane Fraser and Charlie Kirgan, loading up the bases. A two-run double from Peyton Stevens really broke things open and gave the Mavericks the lead for good. Missoula also added on two more runs on bases-loaded walks to make it 7-2.
Nolan McCaffery pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits with seven walks and three strikeouts. McCaffery, 5-3 on the year, moved up from the Mavs' B squad to the AA squad earlier this season.
“We put a huge responsibility on his shoulders,” Hathaway said. “Playing B ball to AA innings, he’s handled it real well. We had real high expectations for him and we threw him in the fire right away and he’s one of our better guys.”
Fraser got the start on the mound in the first game and struggled as he pitched four innings. The Mavs allowed just a single run through the first three innings, but a mess of a fourth frame helped the Senators seize control of the game.
The Senators batted around in the inning, with 12 total at-bats during the fourth.
Helena's Caden Sell led off the inning with a deep fly ball that was caught with an impressive catch from Mavs outfielder Sky Palmer. That was about as good as it got for Missoula during the seventh.
Fraser walked two batters early in the inning and some clutch two-out hitting helped the Senators build a lead.
A passed ball made it 4-1 and four-straight base hits began to move the Helena players around. The Senators batters were able to find the holes in the Mavericks outfield and took advantage.
All the sudden it was 8-1 and Helena had total control of the game.
“We just strung some good at bats together,” Senators coach Jon Burnett said. “We’ve seen quite a few pitchers lately that throw really hard. We weren’t really affected by Dane’s velocity. I thought we took some good at bats, just standing back and driving the ball back where he pitched it.”
The Mavs tried to claw back in the bottom of the fifth, but 9-3 was the closest they got.
Helena added four more runs in the sixth to earn the run-rule victory. Tyler Tenney earned the win for the Senators.
“I like how we’re playing,” Burnett said. “All three assets of the game, pitching, defense, fielding, we’re doing a pretty good job. I like where we’re at.”
The Mavs will play the Glacier Twins in Whitefish Friday night.