Last year, they were ten and walked off the Columbia Falls fields with a State Championship in hand. A banner hung on the Smith Fields fence all year reminding them that they’d come together as a team and won State.
This year, a few players didn’t return and the All-Star tryouts for the eleven year old Whitefish Baseball team had a total of eleven players show. All eleven made it on the team. And all eleven made the trip last weekend to Lewistown, Montana with parents and grandparents and friends in tow to see if they could win State again.
They played in pool play against Lewistown, Glendive and Helena, easily defeating the first two, but losing by one run in extra innings to Helena. It looked like Helena and Bozeman, who’d showed up with a mascot and a slew of rented brand-new Camaros parked across the fields, were the teams to beat.
Seeded third, with Helena in second and Bozeman in first, they played Helena in the semi-finals at 9am last Saturday morning. In the sixth, Hunter Watterud hit one over the fence to tie the game 2-2. That sent the game into overtime. Whitefish had the advantage of batting as the home team and shut down Helena’s batters. When it was their turn to bat, Max Smiley brought Forrest Kobelt home for the win.
They were one game away from winning the State Championship Title and they’d never played the number one seeded Bozeman before. The game against Bozeman started off with Lee Walburn pitching like a champion and then hitting one over the fence in the first inning. At the end of the second inning, the score was 2-1 Whitefish and Walburn continued to shut them down with the assistance of his sharp infield including Ryan Thompson at third.
Walburn pitched all the innings allowed and Hunter Watterud came in to pitch three more. Max Smyley, Tatum Hanks, Finn Anderson, Kyaih Ingraham, and Erik (Pickle) Holdhusen ruled the outfield. Even with the strong pitching and fielding by Whitefish, they were trailing 3-4 in the fourth until Forrest Kobelt hit a single to drive in two runs.
Going into the 5th inning, the score was 5-4 Whitefish. Both teams held up the batters and headed into the sixth with the same score. Whitefish batted in the sixth and scored no runs. All out of starting pitchers and knowing they could’t let Bozeman score, they brought in Easton Holder to close the game. He said, “I was calm because I knew the infield was playing strong and the guys would back me up.”
Turned out Holder was right. The first batter hit a shot to right field, only to be gunned out by Finn Anderson, who threw the ball in from the outfield to Holder. The runner was trying to stretch a triple into a home run. But Holder relayed the throw to Luke Schwaiger at catcher, who then caught the runner in a pickle, and threw the ball to Thompson who tagged him out at third. The second batter went down on strikes. With a ground ball to Walburn at second, the third out was made and the team took State for the second year in a row.
Nine returning players, Manager Gary Watterud and coaches Jason Schwaiger, Kevin Smyley and Pete Kobelt and Bat Boy Ty Schwaiger knew the feeling and relished it. For the new additions, it was a whole new experience.
They celebrated Montana style- by finding the nearest river and jumping in!
This Wednesday, the Whitefish 11 Year-Old All Stars will head to Meridian, Idaho to compete in the Regional Tournament, playing against teams from Washington, Idaho, Oregon and British Columbia. You can follow their progress on their Facebook Page at Whitefish Baseball, Inc.