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State baseball: Florence pushes past Hamilton to capture first championship

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Posted at 8:43 PM, May 18, 2024

MISSOULA — The Florence Falcons reached new heights Saturday by securing the first high school state baseball championship in school history.

Chase Wagner drove in two runs and pitcher Jake Roth threw a complete game as Florence defeated Hamilton 4-2 at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field to claim the crown in front of a pretty good crowd on hand to watch the two Bitterroot Valley foes compete.

PHOTOS: FLORENCE AND HAMILTON CLASH IN STATE BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

"Last year we came up a little short, and the boys were real hungry," Florence coach John Hinsdale said. "This year they had a goal and they worked hard and it's amazing just to see it pay off."

In the just the second year of baseball as a Montana High School Association-sanctioned sport, the Falcons reigned supreme. But it was a battle from the first pitch.

Roth and mound counterpart Jackson Lubke of Hamilton matched each other early, as each had to work out of a jam in the first two innings to keep the game scoreless.

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Photos from the Montana state baseball championship game between the Florence Falcons and Hamilton Broncs at Allegiance Field at Ogren Park on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Missoula.

The Falcons struck first in the bottom of the third, scoring twice on a pair of Hamilton fielding errors to take a 2-0 lead. But the Broncs answered in the fourth with two runs of their own as Atticus Southwell hit an RBI single and Andrew Ricklefs drew a bases-loaded walk.

"I tried to stay calm," Roth said of his demeanor on the mound. "Emotions got me a little in the dugout but we came back very well. Said sorry, those are my runs I gave up, but came back hot and I thank my boys for it."

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Photos from the Montana state baseball championship game between the Florence Falcons and Hamilton Broncs at Allegiance Field at Ogren Park on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Missoula.

Florence broke the tie again in the fifth as Drew Wagner scored from third on Chase Wagner's sacrifice fly to give the Falcons a 3-2 advantage. But Lubke again wiggled out of trouble, this time in a bases-loaded, one-out situation by inducing a flyout and a lineout to end the threat.

The Falcons added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Chase Wagner came through again with a two-out, two-strike RBI single against Hamilton reliever Tyce O'Connell to make the score 4-2. That proved to be all Florence needed.

"I'm just blown away," Chase Wagner said. "I'm so proud of my teammates and myself. We had a sophomore infield that last game and really impressed with how we worked through adversity when adversity struck. Teammates just kept up in the dugout. Everyone mattered that game."

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Photos from the Montana state baseball championship game between the Florence Falcons and Hamilton Broncs at Allegiance Field at Ogren Park on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Missoula.

Wagner's insurance run came after Hamilton intentionally walked Mason Arlington to bring him to the plate, and the sophomore found a way to deliver to give the Falcons some breathing room.

"(In the final at-bat) I thought to myself, man, they doubted me. It's my time to shine," he said. "Had a tough (at-bat), I popped it up and they dropped it. I knew that was my second chance, I'm so blessed to be in that opportunity and I'm so happy I got to do what I could."

The Broncs had a final shot in the top of the seventh, and Lubke hit a one-out double to create traffic on the bases. But Roth retired the next two batters, the last on a flyout to left field to end the game and give Florence its first title.

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Photos from the Montana state baseball championship game between the Florence Falcons and Hamilton Broncs at Allegiance Field at Ogren Park on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in Missoula.

Roth went the distance in the win for Florence, as he pitched seven innings and allowed five hits and two runs, one of which was earned, while walking four and striking out eight.

"It means the world to me," Roth said. "We put in the work. We never had a day off all season. We were working every day. These boys deserve it. The energy was electric. It was a great atmosphere to be in too."

"They never quit, they never quit working," Hinsdale added. "Great bunch of kids. Couldn't ask for anything more."

Earlier Saturday, Columbia Falls claimed the third-place trophy with a 16-2 victory over Butte in five innings.

Jett Pitts went 4 for 4 with five RBIs for the Wildcats, while Reggie Sapa went 2 for 4 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored. Cody Schweikert scored four times for Columbia Falls.

The Wildcats and Bulldogs each won loser-out games Saturday to advance to the third-place contest. C-Falls edged Belgrade 10-9 in eight innings while Butte took care of Eureka 11-6.