BOZEMAN — American Legion Baseball returned at Heroes Park this past week, as the Bozeman Bucks officially began their 2021 season with hopes to win their third straight state title, but they also have to overcome the loss of some significant play-makers from last year.
“We had a pretty nice run over the last few years," said head coach Garrett Schultz. "We lost a lot of seniors after last year so it’s going to be fun to give that next group of guys a shot to see what they can do. It’s time for them to pick up the torch and represent the program.”
The new guys have to pick up the torch from players like ace Hunter Williams, who threw a complete game shutout in the 2020 Class AA state title game, stud catcher Alton Gyselman, who is now playing at Yavapai College, and slugger Sage McMinn, who is playing at Garden City Community College.
"Pretty confident we’ve got some players that can step in and fill roles, but we’re unproven at this point, so it’s going to be fun over the next several weeks of preseason action to get rolling," Schultz said. "We got a lot of spots up for grabs and it’s competitive right now.”
The Bucks return the offensive MVP from last year's state tournament, Logan Pailthorpe, and slugging first baseman and pitcher Rhett Hayes, who’s committed to play at the University of Jamestown next year.
“A lot of that we turned over from last year and a lot of people need to step up this year, which is tough, but it’s fun rolling out a new squad this year,” said Pailthorpe.
Hayes is more than ready to take on the leadership role for his last season with the squad.
“This is the hardest I’ve ever trained, I feel like I’m the best player I have ever been right now," he said. "I really want to go out there and play well this year.”
The Bucks program has added a "C" team this year, so now they can develop players even earlier who can come up and replenish the teams when that torch needs passed.
“I think we have some really good coaches at those younger levels that develop our guys and get them ready," said Schultz. "Again, losing a whole bunch of guys from last year’s team, pretty confident we’re going to have some guys ready to go and fill those roles.”
With a full week of practice under their belt, the Bucks are way ahead of where they were this time last year.
“We’re really happy and fortunate to be out here at the park and taking advantage," said the Bucks head coach. "Last year, we didn’t start until Memorial Day, I think. We just sat around and talked on Zoom and tried to stay healthy. This year, we’re ready to go. We got a lot of kids who are excited about playing baseball.”
And despite the large turnover for the roster, a three-peat is the goal.
“I think we definitely have a team that’s going to go out there and compete for another state championship," said Hayes.