Dillon Cubs close out 2021 at Southern A District American Legion tourney

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Stealing first

A Belgrade Bandit tries to elude a tag from Dillon’s Jonny Reiser at first base during Begrade’s win over the Dillon Cubs at last weekend’s Southern A District tourney in Livingston. Dillon pitcher Damon Skradski watches from the infield. Lydia Ely/Yellowstone Newspapers photo

The Dillon Cubs started well at the Montana-Alberta Southern A District Tournament in Livingston last week.

And Dillon’s American Legion baseball club continued to play well at the annual showdown against league rivals, with a pair of spots for the state tourney on the line.

But the Cubs’ season ended earlier than hoped, with a pair of tough losses, following an opening round upset win over Helena in the double-elimination tournament.

The Bozeman Bucks scored a single run with two outs in the top half of the final inning on Saturday morning to complete a remarkable comeback and triumph over the Cubs, 12-11, in a door-die showdown for both teams.

“It was a great game. We hit the ball well,” said Cubs Head Coach Greg Fitzgerald, whose team jumped out to a first-inning, 4-0 lead, powered by a bases-loaded double into the rightcenterfield gap by Cole Pulliam.

Dillon extended its lead to 10-3 after three innings, with a Connor Curnow home run highlighting their offensive outburst.

But the Bucks kept hoofing their way back, scoring a pair of runs,—one on a seeing-eye single, another on a sacrifice fly—in the fourth, when Pete Gibson added a run to the Cub total with an RBI double.

Bozeman then notched three more runs in the top of the fifth inning, which could have gotten worse for the Cubs but for a great throw from left field by Jace Fitzgerald to nail a Buck baserunner.

Bozeman knotted the score, 11-11, with three miscue-aided runs in the sixth, to set up the dramatic finish, with the Bucks plating the winning run on a two-out, bases-loaded wild pitch.

“We made some mistakes down the stretch and you can’t do that in the tourney,” said the Cubs skipper.

Seeded fifth in the eight-team district tourney, the Cubs started brightly in Livingston—on fire even—burning through the fourth-seeded Helena Reps, 13-2, in the tourney opener on Thursday morning.

The mercy-rule-shortened game featured blasts over the outfield fence of Jack Weimer Memorial Park by Jace Fitzgerald and Cub teammate Kale Konen.

“We hit the ball really well against Helena, and fielded well. And Tyler Lagunas did an excellent job pitching,” said Fitzgerald of his cagey opening game starter.

“I thought Tyler would be a good matchup against Helena. He just did a really good job of pitching to contact, and our kids did good job defense behind him.”

The Cubs then came up against the top seeded Belgrade Bandits on Friday afternoon.

“It was a good contest. We just couldn’t plate runs,” said Fitzgerald of Belgrade’s 5-1 victory over Dillon, which had handed the mighty Bandits two of their three league losses in June.

Bandit Coby Richards tossed a com plete game on Friday, striking out nine Cubbies in seven innings.

“He did a really good job. Whenever we got some runners on base and put some pressure on, he’d come up with a big strikeout,” said Fitzgerald of Richards, a key component of a loaded Belgrade pitching staff.

“Belgrade’s pitching is really good, and they field well, and put pressure on your defense,” said Fitzgerald of the Bandits, well known for their small-ball approach that uses bunting and aggressive baserunning to disorient opposing defenses and manufacture runs.

“And this year, they also have kids who can hit it out. Now, they’ll go on to try to win the state tourney. I think they have the tools,” said Fitzgerald of the Bandits, who swept four games at last week’s Southern A District tourney, taking the title game, 8-2, over the Gallatin Valley Outlaws on Sunday, to extend their winning streak to 14 games.

While Belgrade pursues glory, the Cubs begin an offseason in which they will face some voids.

They will have to go forward without four of their top players—Gibson, Fitzgerald, Johnny Reiser and Cole Pulliam, the league’s finest defensive catcher who also developed into one of the team’s top pitchers this season.

“It’s always tough to finish your season that way, and for a lot of our guys, their careers,” said the Cubs skipper of the quartet of Cubs who saw their last Legion ball action last weekend, and will be prevented from returning in 2022 due to reaching their age limit.

“That was a good group. They played baseball for Dillon for a long time and brought a lot to the organization. It’s tough to see them leave. But Dillon has some great younger players and this will be a quality team going forward,” commented Fitzgerald, who will be stepping away from the Cubs dugout.

“I am retiring,” said Fitzgerald, the Cubs skipper for the last seven seasons and an assistant coach prior to that.

“It was tough, not an easy decision,” added Fitzgerald, who said his call to step away was made easier by all the fine players in the organization who will be eligible to play next season.

“I think the Cubs are headed in the right direction, and with the new facility getting built, interest in baseball in Dillon is getting stronger and stronger,” added Fitzgerald of the baseball fields under construction adjacent to Cubs Field in Ray Lynch Park.

“Whoever takes over the Cubs from here has a good thing going.”