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Mariner season ends at state tourney

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FLORENCE – The Mission Valley Mariner American Legion baseball team’s postseason run ended last week in Florence, but the result did not diminish a bright season.

With a 7-13 conference record, the Mariners finished nine games behind the West A conference Bitterroot Red Sox; however, the Mariners were named district champs during the West A District American Legion baseball tournament at Lee Gehring Field in Libby two weeks ago.

In the double-elimination district tournament, the sixth-seeded Mariners marched through the brackets and into the championship game by defeating the Kalispell Lakers in a close 5-4 game, the Glacier Twins 10-7 and blanking the Bitterroot Red Sox 11-0.

In the district championship game, the Mariners struggled at the plate against the Glacier Twins pitching staff with only two hits. The Mariners fell 5-0 to the Twins who they had previously defeated 10-7 with a nine-run seventh-inning rally. 

Because the Mariners had yet to lose a game during the tournament, the Glacier win forced a second winner-takes-all game. The second game was another nail biter for the Mariners. Headed into the top of the seventh inning, the Mariners found themselves down 4-0 to the Twins.  

The Twins lead was cut in half, 4-2, after the Mariners pushed two early-inning runs across the plate.

With the Glacier pitcher struggling on the mound, Mission Valley batters loaded the bases for Mariner slugger Eric Dolence. Down 0-2 in the pitch count, Dolence blasted the next pitch into left field for a grand-slam home run, giving the Mariners the 6-4 win and the district championship.

That victory earned Mission Valley a bracket spot to the American Legion Montana State baseball tournament’s elite eight that began play on July 27 in Florence. The Mariners opened the state tournament with a solid 5-3 win over the Miles City Mavericks. In the second game of the tourney, the Mariners struggled and fell 7-2 to the Vauxhall Spurs, who eventually went on to win the state championship. The tournament host Bitterroot Bucs nudged the Mariners out of state tournament action with a close 9-8 consolation bracket win.

With the season wrapped up, the Mariners finish with an overall record of 26-22, a district title and a season to be proud of.

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