For the fourth straight tournament game the Mavericks trailed by at least two runs to start the contest, but for the third straight day it was Missoula who rallied for victory 9-6 over Lethbridge to keep their season alive.
Missoula’s Josh Harrington had a rocky first inning against the host-team Elks on Friday morning. Lethbridge struck for four runs on four hits to take the lead. The Mavericks would get on the board in their next at-bat thanks to an RBI single from Jackson King. Missoula would then tie things up 4-4 in the 4th inning thanks to a bases loaded single up the middle by Tanner Rheinschmidt.
Missoula took its first lead of the ballgame on an RBI triple from Slade Heggen in the 6th inning. But Lethbridge would go back on top 6-5 in the bottom of the 7th. However the offensive well ran dry for the Elks after that as Missoula added a pair of runs in the both the 8th and 9th innings to secure the 9-6 victory over Lethbridge and keep their season alive.
"It's almost a good thing being down because then it gives you something to play for,” said Rheinschmidt. “I mean it just puts an edge in your head and gives you an edge on the field that just makes you compete a little harder and just try your best out there."
It was actually the 7-8-9 hitters that provided the spark for Missoula in Friday’s win. Josh Meader, Jackson King and Jakob Bierig went a combined 6-for-11 at the plate with six runs scored and a pair of RBIs.
"It's a great feeling we just don't want our season to be over quite yet,” said Jackson King of the Mavericks’ ability to keep coming back in games. “We've got a lot of seniors on this team and we're all playing for them."
The Billings Royals also won on Friday getting a 9-2 victory over Medicine Hat. The Mavericks and Royals will battle at 10:30 on Saturday morning. The Royals have not lost yet at this week’s tournament, so for the Mavericks to be state champs they will have to beat the Royals in the morning just to force a second championship game at 1:30 in the afternoon.
Perhaps the biggest positive for the Mavericks over the last couple of days, besides winning and staying alive in the bracket, has been their starting pitchers’ ability to eat up the innings. Josh Harrington went the distance for Missoula against Lethbridge, allowing just five runs on nine hits for the complete game victory. Matt McHugh was equally valuable in the Mavericks’ win on Thursday when he pitched a complete game win against the Scarlets, spreading 10 hits and four runs over his nine innings of work.
"I knew that we had a shot, we were going to play some good baseball,” said Harrington of his mentality heading into this week’s tournament. “But I was nervous. We came out here and we didn't play very well the first day but from here on out I think we'll play pretty well."
The Mavericks are looking for their seventh ‘AA’ state title in program history. Meanwhile their counterpart, the Billings Royals, are looking to clinch their sixth title in program history and their third in a row. Saturday's championship round between the Mavericks and Royals will be a rematch of last year state title game in Billings which the Royals won 5-0