FLORENCE — It was the Mission Valley Mariners that played both the role of spoiler in winning the Montana American Legion West A District Tournament more than a week ago as the conference's sixth seed.
On Day 3 of the Montana American Legion Class A State Tournament Monday, however, the Mariners were eliminated by a Bitterroot Bucs squad on a streak of its own. The host team from Florence and tourney underdogs topped the Mariners, 9-8.
It was a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning from Johnny Lineback that drove in Brendan Schneiter and gave the Bucs the go-ahead run. And it was Schneiter who kicked things off for his Bitterroot boys, too.
Schneiter hit a solo home run to open a two-run second inning, helping the Bucs gain a brief 2-0 lead. But neither team held momentum long Monday, as Mission Valley's Eric Dolence followed with a three-run blast of his own in the top of the third, giving the Mariners a 4-2 lead after two and a half innings.
"I'm thinking OK, now we gotta a little momentum — there was a lot of momentum changes back and forth that game. It was just a fantastic game," Mission Valley's second-year skipper Tim Rausch said. "I'm so proud of these boys... We have just three seniors and two of them have the opportunity to come back (next season) and there's no better experience for those young guys than being here.
"I'm so proud of what these guys did this year."
All the Mariners did was knock off the West's top two teams in the Bitterroot Red Sox and the Glacier Twins at Districts to earn the West's top seed at state.
But it was the West's No. 2 seed — the Bucs, who earned their berth to state by way of hosting the tournament — who couldn't be stopped Monday.
Bitterroot answered Mission's four-run third with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Colby Kohlman had the big swing of the bat in that frame for the Bucs, a two-run shot over the left field wall that scored Blake Hinsdale.
Mission's Dawson Dumont hit a two-RBI triple in the top of the fourth, part of a three-run inning that saw the Mariners retake the lead, 7-5. They added on in the fifth with a long single from Trevor Lake, to make it 8-5. But Bucs relief pitcher Zack Christopherson managed to keep the damage to just one run despite facing a bases loaded, no-out situation.
The Bucs built on that energy with a two-RBI double from No. 9 hitter and senior Brendan Bailey in the bottom of the sixth to close Bitterroot's deficit to one, 8-7.
"I just had to clear (my mind). I had been struggling a little bit, but it's state. You just have to come focused for every play," Bailey said. "I just knew I had to get it done for my teammates."
Another shutdown inning from Christopherson set up a game-tying base hit from Schneiter and the eventual game-winning sac fly. Christopherson closed the door from there.
With the win, the Bucs advance to a semifinal on Tuesday.