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Loggers baseball: One win shy of state tourney

by Western News
| July 29, 2009 12:00 AM

Leading 5-3 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Libby American Legion baseball team found itself nine outs away from reaching the state tournament in a hard-fought game against the Bitterroot Red Sox.

Wes Sherman crushed those hopes with a two-out, three-run homer in the seventh to give the Red Sox a 6-5 lead in the Western A District tournament elimination game. In the eighth, the Red Sox scored two more runs en route to an 8-5 victory.

“The kids fought hard during the tournament, did everything they could,” Libby coach Kelly Morford said. “It just didn’t happen for us at the end, I guess.”

Libby opened up a 4-0 lead at one point in the game only to see the Red Sox fight back to 4-3. In the top of the seventh, the Loggers pushed another one across for the two-run advantage. Bitterroot got two baserunners aboard in the bottom half of that inning on walks before Sherman’s blow.

The Red Sox were the No. 1 seed out of their conference with a 15-1 record.

“They pretty much had the same lineup that we played in the championship game at last year’s tournament,” Morford said. “They’re a pretty solid ballclub.”

Libby’s Colt Cannon and Micah Germany each went 2-for-4 at the plate. Cannon had a triple and three RBIs. Dustin Morningstar took the loss at pitcher. Adam Stapley and Cannon also pitched in the late innings.

Libby ends the season with a 29-23 record.

The Loggers went 3-2 in the tournament, opening on Thursday with an encouraging 16-0 rout of the Bitterroot Bucs. Morningstar shined with a three-hitter that included six strikeouts and just one walk. During one stretch, he retired 12 straight.

Offensively, the Loggers collected 14 hits. Chris Herbig and Joe Coker each went 3-for-5. Morningstar and Cannon added two hits apiece. Herbig had seven total bases – single, double and home run – and three RBIs. Cannon also drove in three. Derek Willis hit a homer as well.

“It’s one of the best all-around ballgames we’ve had all year long,” Morford said. “We had power hitting, we had drag bunts for base hits, we were solid on defense, baserunning-wise, we were solid. It was exciting to see a nice all-around ballgame by us.”

Morningstar took the mound on a last-minute decision by the coach.

“We had a great game. We had the bats come around – Herbig, Willis, Coker, Cannon – all came clutch,” Morningstar said. “(Eric) Riddle had a couple drag bunts that came clutch. We had just decent pitching up there and we had no errors.

“It’s defense that does it,” he added. “Coker is out in right field making nice plays, Colton is out catching balls over his shoulders. Anything that comes with pitching comes with the fielding to go with it.”

The Red Sox handed Libby its first loss of the tournament on Saturday, 13-6. The opponents could not be stopped at the plate with 19 hits.

“They really swing the sticks well. If you are going to beat a team like that, you are not going to be able to make the defensive mistakes that we did,” Morford said.

Libby had a few breakdowns in the loss – some that did not happen in Thursday’s tournament-opening victory.

“We hung around there for a little bit,” Morford said. “But we just couldn’t get anything going offensively early and then we made a few mistake pitches and a few errors defensively and they just kept adding one, two or three runs per inning. We just couldn’t stop the bleeding.”

Libby held a 2-1 lead in the top of the third when Coker ripped a two-run shot to left. But the Red Sox countered and then pulled away.

The Loggers tried to rally in the eighth. Catcher Clay Smith drew a walk and later scored on a two-out single by Riddle. Libby followed with three more hits to make things interesting.

“I was glad to see us come back in the eighth inning and score four runs and give ourselves a chance to win,” Morford said.

Coker went 2-for-5 with the homer and two RBIs. Herbig and Riddle each went 2-for-4 with one RBI. Riddle took the loss at pitcher.

Libby stayed alive late Saturday with a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Kalispell Lakers and a 22-14 shootout over the Bitterroot Bucs.

Herbig drove in the winning run against Kalispell with a single in the top of the 10th inning. Riddle had reached base earlier on an error and scored the deciding run. Herbig and the Logger defense then got the Lakers to go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 10th.

Herbig went 4-for-6 and Riddle was 2-for-5 in the win. Clay Smith hit a double. Cannon started at pitcher and Herbig got the decision after relieving in the seventh.

Against the Bucs, Libby collected an amazing 26 hits and rallied from an 11-4 deficit to advance. Libby scored in seven of the nine innings and Coker got the win at pitcher.

Offensively, Morningstar went 5-for-8 with a home run, double and three RBIs. Willis went 4-for-7 with three doubles and two RBIs. Coker ended up 3-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs. Herbig finished 3-for-6 with three RBIs.

In two games against the Bucs in the tournament, the Loggers scored 38 runs.

The Loggers advanced from Saturday’s wins to the elimination game on Sunday against the Red Sox.

(Dixie Knutson of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell contributed to this story).