HELENA — All year long, the Belgrade Bandits and Gallatin Valley Outlaws, the two best teams in the Southern A Legion district, have been taking turns beating each other. And the Southern A District Tournament at Kindrick Legion Field this weekend was no different.
On Saturday night, it was No. 2 GVO's turn, with a 4-3 win over the Bandits to reach the catbird seat.
But then on Sunday, the No. 1 Bandits won the first championship contest 1-0 over the Outlaws. As a result, Belgrade (50-11) and Gallatin Valley (37-24) will share the Southern A title
Both teams qualified for the State A Tournament in Miles City next week, and normally the team in the Catbird seat needs to lose twice. But since State starts a day early and in order to save on pitchers, it was determined before districts to forego the second championship game.
Belgrade’s Easton Page broke up a scoreless pitcher’s dual in the bottom of the fifth inning, when his sacrifice bunt scored Seth Green from third.
Bandits starting pitcher Marcos Verdeja fired a four-hit shutout, while Outlaw hurlers Michael Nehring, who was hung with the loss, and Thomas Carlson combined for a five-hitter.
"Marcos threw a gem, he had command of all three of his pitches with his presence and tempo," related coach Johnny Graham, who guided Belgrade to a State runner-up trophy last year. "These guys are the epitome of what a team is supposed to be. I love how they care about each other, and the team. They know the responsibility to the team, they work hard for each other, and they pick each other up ... that's how they roll."
Graham described the mutual respect that Gallatin Valley coach DuWayne Johnson and his Outlaws crew of Three Forks have for Graham and his Bandits.
"We are rivals by default, because we're so close to each other, and we're so competitive," the Belgrade skipper said. "But we respect each other. They're a tough team to beat, and I'm sure they probably say the same about us."
Belgrade 9, Helena 7
The Helena Reps came one game away from reaching the American Legion Class A state tournament, losing to Belgrade 9-7 Sunday morning and placing third.
The win moved No. 2 Belgrade into the title against the Gallatin Valley Outlaws later in the day.
The Bandits scored one run in the first inning and two in the third to go up 3-0. No. 3 Helena closed to within one on a two-run triple by Chase Nielsen in the top of the third.
But Belgrade answered back with a five-run outburst in their half of the frame, culminated by Jake Klonsinski's two-run double to extend the advantage to 8-2.
Seth Green, who was the second runner scoring on the hit, turned out to be the deciding factor.
After two scoreless innings, the Reps tallied two runs in the top of the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Hunter Lindgren and Nielsen speeding home on a wild pitch.
Belgrade then pushed across another run to make 9-4.
The Reps went out fighting in the top of the seventh, scoring three times, when Trysten Mooney led off with a single and then the Bandits committed errors on the next three batters in a row.
Helena's final run came on a ground ball by Nielsen, scoring Caden Sell.
Easton Page pitched the complete game win, giving up five hits and allowing just two earned runs. He struck out five and walked two. Ethan Keintz was saddled with the loss.
Green paced the Bandits' offense with two singles and two RBIs. Helena's Nielsen had two hits, and Sell added two RBIs.
"That was a really gutsy win by these guys, and Easton was great on the mound," Belgrade coach Johnny Graham said. "That game had a lot of adversity, and pressure to win or go home, and Easton was able to control his emotions after those three errors in the last inning."
Helena (39-19) coach Dane Broadhead said he was "very proud of these guys" for the season they had.
"I've been very impressed of the way they competed all year, especially in the tournament," Broadhead said. "And I was also most proud of how they conduct themselves on and off the field, they're a great group of young men.
"The future is bright for Helena baseball."