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'Don't underestimate the B schools': Florence reveling in state championship baseball run

Posted at 5:09 PM, May 19, 2024

MISSOULA — The second ever Montana high school baseball champion was crowned on Saturday, and that honor belongs to the Florence Falcons, a program that defeated fellow Bitterroot Valley rival Hamilton 4-2 to bring home the title.

Winning it all meant a lot to the Class B school, who battled through Class AA and A opponents to get to the title.


"Finally came out for baseball. I mean, hopefully more kids come out we only had 17 kids all year," Florence senior Jake Roth said. "(Class) B school. Don't underestimate the B schools, we beat two AA teams this year, eliminated one. So that's fun."

Florence's tournament had a little bit of everything for the Falcons to endure.

They survived a comeback attempt by Eureka in the quarterfinals to start things off, and Friday, were led by a masterful performance from Mason Arlington who threw a 14-strikeout, no-hitter against Belgrade to put them in the title game.

"The Eureka game kind of gave us an idea of where we were at, we hadn't played Eureka or too many teams from their conference all year and we knew they'd be tough coming in and the kids knew that and we just kept battling," Florence manager John Hinsdale said. "And then, I mean, Mason, you play Belgrade and you know what they're gonna do and Mason just came out there and did his thing and probably the best pitching performance I've ever seen in that game."

Then came the matchup with Hamilton, the only program to beat Florence this year as the programs split their meetings in the regular season.

"It was pretty cool, you know, splitting with them in the regular season was a surprise," Florence sophomore Chase Wagner said. "We knew they were a good team. We knew once they got excited they would roll. So we knew we had to just shut down all the all the excitement and keep rolling with ours."

The Falcons were led by Roth on the mound, whose fiery passion was on display from the get-go as he brought the energy, weathered adversity, and threw eight strikeouts in a complete game effort en route to the win.

"I try to keep the energy up," Roth said. "When I have energy, the entire team has energy. We play better when we're all backing each other. So one bad thing happens, we wipe it pretty quick. So having energy makes it better.

Hamilton had been comeback kids all tournament in the first two rounds, so after Florence threw the first punch to make it 2-0 in the bottom of the third inning, the Broncs had a response to tie it 2-2 in the fourth.

But the Falcons leaned on their championship experience from other sports, as many on Florence's baseball team are also part of the school's football program, who 3-peated as Class B champs back in November.

They've been there before in big moments, and that showed on Saturday as the Falcons buckled down and got the offense going again, with RBIs from Wagner in the fifth and sixth innings to take the lead, as Florence maintained it the rest of the way to be crowned state champs to finish the season 18-1.

And with just three seniors on the roster, Florence could very well be back in the mix come next year as they look to defend their title.

"We just kept the culture alive," Wagner said. "It's kind of an expectation. Our teammates battle each other pretty hard. It keeps competition in the organization. It's really cool that we get to experience state championships as a B school."

"We know we've been in situations like this before, probably five, six times this year where we've gotten down, made some bad plays during the game, gotten down," Hinsdale said. "But the ability for them to get it out of their system, move on to the next one and just keep going with one goal, and that's to get the W at the end of the day."