It has been an up-and-down regular season for the Kalispell Lakers AA.
The American Legion baseball campaign started with an impressive 17-6 mark.
The team then dropped six straight league games in June before everything finally fell in place.
The Lakers went 8-1 in tournament play in Washington and Whitefish and finished by winning 10 of their last 11 games for a 37-14 mark overall.
In league, Kalispell was 15-7, which earned the team the second seed for the AA state tournament, which begins today at Griffin Field.
The Lakers play the final game on opening day.
The schedule ...
n 10 a.m. — Great Falls (eighth seed) vs. Bozeman (first seed)
n 1 p.m. — Missoula (fifth seed) vs. Billings Scarlets (fourth seed)
n 4 p.m. — Lethbridge (sixth seed) vs. Billings Royals (third seed)
n 7 p.m. — Helena (seventh seed) vs. Kalispell (second seed)
Play continues through Wednesday.
The winner advances to the AA Regional Tournament in Missoula Aug. 8-12. The AA Legion World Series is Aug. 17-21 in Shelby, North Carolina.
“A lot of it has to do with confidence,” Lakers starting pitcher Sam Elliott said.
“When we were in that losing streak, we were in every game, but losing in the late innings. The two nonconference tournaments we started winning again. That grew our confidence. We started to click in all three phases of the game — hitting, pitching and defense. It started clicking all together.”
The Lakers and Helena will meet for a fifth time with the Senators winning three of the matchups.
Helena swept a doubleheader in Helena on June 20, 8-7 and 6-5. It was a split at Griffin Field on May 12, the Lakers losing 5-2, but winning 11-1.
Drew Scherrer (11-3) earned the win for the Lakers on the hill.
“There is great parity in the state this year,” Lakers coach Ryan Malmin said.
“There are a number of teams who would win it. Whoever plays well has a shot at it.”
On the matchup with Helena ...
“A lot of close games,” he said.
“They are real athletic, have depth in their pitching staff. The are anchored by one of the best hitters in the state in Colin Cessano.”
He was 3 for 6 in the doubleheader with the Lakers at Griffin Field.
The key, according to Malmin, is to stay focused.
“Don’t let the moment be bigger than it is,” he said of state.
“Nothing has changed from our prospective. We want your absolute best.
“Again, we’re pleased with where we are at with our pitching staff. A key to our success this weekend is quality at-bats and to execute with runners in scoring position.”
The Lakers have four starters hitting at .344 or higher.
Taylor Morton is hitting .365. He leads the team in triples with eight and has one home run. His 167 at-bats are also a team high.
Randy Stultz is next at .357. His 21 doubles is a Lakers best along with his five home runs. He also his seven triples.
Eric Seaman, hitting .345, has a team high 34 singles.
Dawson Smith, .344, is second in singles with 33.
Morton and Stultz are the RBI leaders with 44 each.
Keaden Morisaki was hitting .417 through 14 games when his season ended with a knee injury.
Kalispell has great depth on the mound with Scherrer (11-3), Elliott (9-2), Logan Siblerud (5-4), Smith (4-4) and Johan Freudenburg (3-1 with 2 saves). The Lakers have a team ERA of 2.55 and have allowed just three home runs.
“I think this is one that has the best depth on the pitching staff,” Malmin said in comparing his 2018 team to others he’s coached. “It’s one of my most favorite groups of all times. Great kids who love to come to work and play hard.”
Kalispell has won state just once, back in 1978. The Lakers finished second in 2016 and third in 2009.