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Mission Mountain All-stars snare 2nd at state

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COLUMBIA FALLS – In only their second tournament of the season, the Mission Mountain All-stars flew under the radar all the way to the championship game of the Western Montana State Championship in Columbia Falls Sunday.

The 10U Cal Ripken Little League underdogs’ championship bid ran out of steam in the final game and they took home the silver trophy after losing 14-4 to Whitefish.

“No one thought we we’d be there (the championship game). Not one team thought we’d make it,” Mission Mountain manager Lennie Hales said.

While most of the teams had been playing each other in tournaments the past month, Mission Mountain had entered only the Polson Fireball Invitational, which they won.

“Nobody even knew who we were,” Hales said. “By Sunday they all knew who we were,” he added.

The All-stars from across the valley went 5-2 at the four-day tournament and jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Whitefish after one and a half innings. In the bottom of the second, Mission Mountain allowed Whitefish’s bottom of the order hitters to reach base by either walks or errors. 

When the top of the order came up with ducks on the pond they strung together five straight hits and scored seven runs. 

Mission Mountain pushed a run across in the top of the third, but could never recover from the seven-run surge.

“We just ran out of gas, we just couldn’t get anything going after that,” Hales said.

The All-stars, who went 2-1 in pool play, opened bracket play with a 15-2 rout of Corvallis and then avenged their only loss in pool play with a 17-15 win over Columbia Falls.

In the top of the sixth and final inning, Mission Mountain scored seven runs to take a 17-5 lead. They put the brakes on the rally because they didn’t want to run up the score, which almost came back to haunt them.

In the bottom of the sixth, Columbia Falls took advantage of a shrinking strike zone and scored 10 runs before southpaw hurler Tyson Pettigrew put an end to the rally. Hales said after watching a couple of should-be strikes called for balls, Pettigrew decided enough was enough.

“He just got mad and threw six straight strikes,” Hales said.

In the 6-4 victory over Helena in the semifinals, Hale said his team played their best game of the season. Arlee’s Alex Moran went the distance for Mission Mountain and only allowed two earned runs.

The defense was solid behind Moran. The outfielders tracked down four fly balls and the infielders had 10 put outs.

After the game, the Helena manager told Hales that against most defenses his team would have scored 15 runs.

Arlee’s Phillip Malatare added to Mission Mountain’s 3-2 lead, with a leadoff home run in the top of the fifth. Malatare also scored in the first.

“Philly (Malatare) was our table setter. He got things going for us,” Hales said.

In the fifth, Toby Odom, who reached by a walk, added another run on a double by Ronan’s Brendon Blood.

After Helena cut the lead to 5-4, Moran added an insurance run in the sixth after a hit by St. Ignatius’ Kaleb Durglo.

Hales credits the coaching of Rocky Reynolds for his team’s ability to win the close games. 

Shortstop Mason McNeel had the most hits for the All-stars at the tournament and did a great job leading the team.

“(McNeel) was our stable guy in the middle.. He kept everybody calm,” Hales said. “When he came up to bat we knew we had a chance to do something.”

Hales said his team had so much fun at the tournament that they are anxiously waiting for a phone call to see if they can keep playing.

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