BELGRADE — Trey Hansen was at the Butte Miners team dinner on Saturday when he received a jolt stronger than any late-night caffeine.
Butte head coach Jim LeProwse pulled Hansen aside and told him there was a change of plans. Hansen would be the Miners starting pitcher for Sunday morning’s Class A State Tournament title game.
"I was so surprised, I couldn’t wrap my head around it," Hansen said. "It was hard to sleep last night. It was just such a huge game, I was just so excited."
The excitement continued following Butte’s 12-2 five-inning win over the Billings Cardinals in Belgrade. Hansen pitched a complete-game three-hitter to help the Miners to their first state title since 1953.
Kenley Leary won tournament MVP and Aidan Lee, who hit his second walk-off of the weekend, was named the tournament batting champion.
"I’m extremely happy for Kenley and extremely happy for Aidan, they’re both leaders and they’re great baseball players," LeProwse said.
Lee pulled a single into right field to score Egan Lester and send the Miners running toward first base for a celebratory dog pile. Lester led off with a double and was moved to third by an Eric Hart sacrifice fly.
Butte’s stars led the way during a 5-0 tournament run that included three run-rule shortened games and four 10-run wins. The Miners outscored their Class A opponents 61-17.
Hart led the Miners with three RBI against the Cardinals and left fielder Egan Lester was 4-for-4 with two RBI and three runs.
Hart and Lester also made highlight-worthy plays in the field.
Hart charged a slow grounder between second base and the mound, plucked it out of the error with his glove and flipped it with his right hand to second baseman Cayde Stajcar for a force out in the third inning.
Lester recorded all three outs with catches in left field in the fourth. The first sent him running back toward the warning track. The second had him and Hart on a collision course in shallow left field before Lester called for the ball and made the sliding catch.
After the game LeProwse worked himself into a giddy frenzy trying to credit every key contributor on a team with more quality players than positions on the field.
"How can you not have Eric Hart in the conversation with an MVP? He did a phenomenal job," LeProwse said. "Egan Lester did a great job. Those guys are on base all the time allowing Aidan to drive them in.
"There’s so many guys that were deserving of an MVP."
But it was a couple unassuming, under-the-radar players who allowed the Butte Miners machine to operate on all cylinders around them.
Hansen walked five and struck out three on 76 pitches. Like LeProwse had told him the night before, he had the run support and defense around him to pitch to contact.
"As I came onto the field today my coach said, ‘These guys are going to hit you know matter what you throw, so just go out there and throw strikes,’" Hansen said. "So that’s what I did. Did my best and came out with the win. It’s awesome."
Sean Ossello was also instrumental in Butte's tournament run. The right fielder was 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored on Sunday. His first-inning single scored Zach Tierney and Rye Doherty as the Miners sent 13 batters to the plate and scored nine runs. He later scored on Lester’s single. Ossello led off the third with a single and was brought around on Hart’s two-run single that also scored Lester.
Despite hitting ninth in the order, Ossello is essentially a second leadoff man for the Miners.
"He’s as good of a nine-hitter as you’re ever going to find. He’s got great speed, he runs the bases really well. He’s another just phenomenal baseball player."
Ossello struggled during the end of the regular season and stayed after practices to identify and correct a swing deficiency that was limiting his ability to make contact.
"I kind of got in a little bit of a slump for the last two weeks but I took probably 300 extra swings the last three days before districts, and my bat just woke up," he said.
At the state tournament, Ossello was 8-for-12 with six runs scored and three RBI in four games.
"He had a little hitch in his swing," LeProwse said. "Once we adjusted his swing he just went on a terror."
Hansen, 16, started the season with the class B Muckers, and was called up to pitch with the Miners.
"It was really hard at first but as the season went on I got used to it," Hansen said. "I worked more on my off-speed and just really worked on my mechanics. Putting the ball in play is what we needed to do and our team can make the plays."
The initial plan for Sunday was to have Hansen the first arm out of the bullpen should Doherty require relief as the starter. After discussion, however, Butte’s coaches decided they didn’t want to take the bats out of the hands of either Doherty or Tierney.
By leaving Doherty at third base, Tierney could DH for Hansen and Doherty would still be available to pitch if needed.
"We’re better offensively if we can leave Rye at third base," LeProwse said. "He’s swinging it so well. So we decided to go that route rather than take Tierney out of the lineup."
The Miners travel to Vernal, Utah, on Thursday for the American Legion Baseball Northwest Class A Regional Tournament. The tournament banquet is Thursday evening and their first game is at 1 p.m. on Friday against Oregon’s Class A representative.
Both of Billings’ two losses at the state tournament came against the Miners.
"We battled to get to this point," Billings head coach Sam Paterson said. "We really hit the ball well this tournament, and you know, so did they (the Miners)."
The Cardinals are often a one- or two-season stop for players on their way to the Class AA Scarlets and Paterson said this week’s tournament experience will be valuable for player development.
"It’s only going to serve these guys with the Scarlets because they’ve been here, they know what championship baseball is, and they know how to compete," Paterson said.
The Cardinals finish their season 40-20-1. The Miners are 40-9 heading to the regional tournament.