LIBBY – The Mission Valley Mariners finished only 7-13 in conference play this year. They entered the Western A district tournament as the six-seed in an eight-team bracket. They trailed 4-0 entering the final inning of the championship game.
And now they are Western A champs.
The Mariners pulled off a miracle comeback to finish off their miraculous run in Libby. Mission Valley scored six runs in the top of the seventh, capped by a grand slam by Eric Dolence, to storm in front and eventually beat defending state champ Glacier, 6-4.
Mission Valley had managed only three hits in the first six innings off of Glacier starter Zachary Veneman. The Mariners final-inning rally started with four consecutive singles by Xavier Fisher, Dawson Dumont, Trevor Lake and James Bennett, the bottom four hitters in the lineup. After a line out, Gabe Mergenthaler added another single to cut the Twins’ lead to 4-2 and leave the bases loaded. Dolence then came to the plate and hammered an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left for the kind of home run kids dream of hitting one day.
Glacier still had a chance to respond in the bottom of the seventh, though. The Twins put runners on first and third with two outs, but a final fly out ended the drama.
The win gives Mission Valley a spot at state. The Bitterroot Bucs will host the State A tournament in Florence starting on Saturday. As the hosts, the Bucs get an automatic spot in the bracket. That means only the Western A champion would advance this year, instead of the top two as in most years.
Glacier was the defending state and regional champions and came into the tournament as the two-seed. The top seed Bitterroot Red Sox, the state champions in three of the past four years, were beaten by Mission Valley 11-0 on Saturday and eliminated by Glacier 4-1 on Sunday.