DILLON – Colby Minert stood at third base with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, toting the tying run.
The Dillon Cubs had cut their deficit against the Helena Reps to one run moments earlier when Minert doubled home Gabe Hupp.
Minert advanced to third on a wild pitch but was unable to travel the final 90 feet to home plate, which would have given Dillon new life.
Instead the Cubs had their season come to an end with a 6-5 setback on Saturday, their second consecutive early exit from the American Legion Southern A District Tournament after coming in as the No. 1 seed.
The frustration was visible. One player threw his helmet against the dugout wall shortly after the players from both teams met at home plate for the customary handshake line.
Others were teary-eyed after the team’s postgame huddle ended, as they realized the opportunity they had just missed.
The team will be losing at least two players – Nate Simkins and Logan Wilson for sure – when it reconvenes next spring.
“This is two years in a row that we were the No. 1 seed and were knocked out in three games,” Cubs coach Greg Fitzgerald said. “I guess I’ll take credit for that.”
Fitzgerald’s attempt to fall on his own proverbial sword wasn’t going to cut it. The Cubs put themselves one loss away from elimination on Friday night when they committed seven errors in a 15-10 loss to Gallatin Valley.
Saturday’s defensive effort was much better against Helena but the offense was suddenly unable to produce.
Dillon scored two runs on four hits in the first inning but it took the next six innings for the Cubs to match both of those figures.
Helena starting pitcher Nik Jemmings settled down after the shaky first inning and did a great job of keeping the Cubs hitters off-balance. The Cubs got runners on base in all but one inning against Jemmings but was rarely able to come up with a key, run-producing hit.
R.J. Fitzgerald singled to start the third inning and scored on a sacrifice fly but the Cubs didn’t score again until the seventh inning when Gabe Hupp drew a one-out walk and eventually came home on Fitzgerald’s sacrifice fly.
Scratching out a run every few innings, however, wasn’t going to do it. The Reps scored all of their runs in the third and fourth innings and allowed Jemmings to nurse the lead until he ran out of gas in the seventh.
he Reps’ big inning against Dillon was the third, when they pushed across five runs, and then added another marker for a 6-3 advantage after four complete frames.
Helena outhit the Cubs 12-10, led by Conor McCarvel’s 4-for-5 effort, and a pair of RBIs each by Brett Jacobs and Riley Chisholm. Carter Wald and Ty McGurran also had two hits apiece.
The Reps also benefitted from a couple of double plays. One came in the fourth inning after Jace Fitzgerald led off with a walk. The other came in the fateful ninth inning after the first two runners had reached base.
“Their pitcher kept our kids off-balance,” Greg Fitzgerald said. “The kid is left-handed and he threw different things at us. We just didn’t square things up. We didn’t hit the ball squarely.”
“We had a couple of chances. We had runners at second and third in the eighth inning and didn’t get them in. We had the first two batters on base in the ninth but then we hit into the double play.”
Conor McCarvel pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief, and Brett Jacobs was called upon to get the final four outs, including the one that left Minert stranded at third base.
Jacobs had an advantage in that the speed of his pitches was much faster than those seen by Dillon batters when Jemmings was in the game.
“We’re definitely at a point where we’re pitching by committee,” Helena coach Jon Burnett said. “Conor pitched with the mindset that he was going to pitch the next game for us.”