BILLINGS — For the past five days at the Montana/Alberta Class AA American Legion baseball tournament, Bozeman coach Garrett Schultz would tell anyone who asked about his team how hungry the Bucks were to end their title drought.
Each of the past two years at state, the Bucks couldn’t live up to their No. 1 seed. Two years ago, Bozeman lost to Missoula in the title game, and last year went two-and-out.
Well, the Bucks, who were seeded second this time around, should be satiated for the time being. They devoured the rest of the field at this year’s state tournament, including Wednesday afternoon’s 6-1 title win over the defending champion Billings Royals at Dehler Park.
Second baseman Ben Hubley gobbled up pinch-hitter Brady Uhren’s grounder and threw to first for the final out, and Bucks players threw their gloves in the air and ran en masse and dogpiled just beyond the pitcher’s mound to celebrate the program’s first championship since 2007.
“We were all ready for this,” said Bozeman starting pitcher Hunter Williams, who twirled a complete game. “Through the tournament we really got our energy up. Everyone in the dugout, everyone on the team wanted this win. We worked so hard for this win.”
Everywhere you looked you could see Bozeman domination, from day one to day five of the tournament. Williams allowed four hits (just one over the final five innings) and got through the game in under 90 pitches, and Kelher Murfitt continued his torrid tourney with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first to get a three-run inning started for the Bucks.
Williams, who went 2-0 in the tourney, was honored as the MVP, while Murfitt was given the top batter award for his .529 average, .667 on-base percentage and his 10 runs scored. But the Bucks went much deeper than that.
Bozeman went 5-0 at the tournament, outscoring their opponents 48-12. Though the championship game was their lowest-scoring output, they did reach double digits in three of their five games.
“It’s the players, it’s the players, they’ve absolutely bought in,” said Schultz, who is in his second season as the Bucks head coach and his third in the Bozeman program. “It’s not just a coach-led team, it’s really become a players-led team, honestly. These guys worked so hard for each other, they support each other, they pick each other up, they hold each other accountable … that’s a big one. Everybody had the same goal, this was the goal, to go out and achieve this.”
Finn Snyder hit a two-run double off Royals starter Nick Eliason and Alton Gyselman added a run-scoring double for a 3-0 lead after the first inning. Hayden Yarbrough drove in the Royals’ lone run in the top of the second with a double of his own, but Williams shut the gate after that.
A couple Royals errors led to another run, as did a wild pitch, and Zander Petrich, who plays for Montana State Billings, added a sacrifice fly in the sixth to complete the scoring.
“It’s kind of been in the back of our minds, especially mine, I want to win,” said Murfitt, referencing the previous two years of disappointments at state. “Especially this senior year, there’s six of us including me. It’s just been incredible.”
As for the Royals, they entered as the No. 5 seed and took home the second-place trophy. For head coach Bryan Benjamin, whose team finished the season 30-31, that was an achievement in itself.
“We succeeded,” he said. “Expectations were low for us this year and we did a lot better than expectations. And so it’s been a successful season. You have to keep your head up and don’t be sad about that. It’s a bummer to lose the game but it’s been a successful season all along.”
NOTES: After Yarbrough’s second-inning double, Williams retired 13 of 14 before the Royals got their final hit, a sixth-inning single by Brenden Concepion. … The Bucks will try to continue their momentum next week at the Region 7 tournament in Lewiston, Idaho. The winner of that tournament advances to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, North Carolina. … Bozeman’s title win in 2007 was also against the Royals, and was the last Legion baseball game to be played at old Cobb Field.