BELGRADE — Belgrade baseball closed the regular season in the first year for high school baseball in Montana as one of the state's best.
The Panthers are led by a core group of seniors, something unique to a sport in its inaugural season for the Montana High School Association.
“We’re kind of everyone’s World Series," coach Joel Barnett said. "And, that’s how everyone has played against us, so we know that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We just have to make sure we answer those punches with punches of our own.”
The Panthers, who went 14-1 overall and 9-1 in the Eastern division, don’t just rise to the occasion, they are the moment. They set the tone for others to achieve.
“Making a culture that is different from everyone else, Being cut from a different part of cloth," senior Brody Jacksha said as he described this team. "Just encouraging one another. Iron sharpens iron, that’s what I like to say.”
There’s no team in the tournament that’s beat the Panthers, but they did drop one game in conference to Sidney.
“We learned that we can’t be too big," senior Cam Ueland said when describing their lone loss. "We can’t understand teams, we got to come out and play our game the way we know every game and just prove that we’re here to win.”
Having the best record in the state, beating most of their opponents before seven innings in a mercy — it can create a pressure. The target on their back has been there all season, but they know it, and they’re ready for the biggest stage of this season yet.
“Everyone’s going to say we have pressure, but I think we handle ourselves on the field," senior Collin Delph said. "We perform under pressure. I think we’ve had that target on our backs all season and we’ve performed and proven that we are the best team in the state.”
“Physical pressure no, mental pressure, yeah," Jacksha said. "Because I feel like you put it on yourself to be perfect or to have to beat this team, you know. It’s just a game, and a game doesn’t define you, but what you do does.”
The territory was brand new with this being the inaugural season of high school baseball in the state of Montana. But this team with its core group of seniors, has meant the world to Barnett.
“This is a once-and-a-lifetime kind of team, with all those great seniors and all the leadership we do have," Barnett said.
His seniors echo his thoughts on how they’ve stepped up to the plate and set the tone for the rest of their team.
“There’s a whole lot of great leaders we have here, and they always day-in and day-out do the best they can to push the rest of their team to their highest level, and they pick each other up and are always there for each other," Senior Gideon Green said.
This town of Belgrade is a baseball town, and they’re ready to bring the first-ever state title in this sport back home with them after the tournament.
“It would be amazing," senior Diego Casas said. "You know, these younger baseball kids in Belgrade, they look up to us. It would give them something to cheer for. It would be amazing to set a foundation for them as well and know that they can do it as well.”
“I know I want to be apart of something great, and everyone on this team wants to be apart of something great," Delph said. "It’s been the goal all season. So, I think it’s really something that everyone here wants, and it’s something you talk about. But, I think when it actually happens, it’s going to be a really special moment.”
They will take on Hamilton at 5 p.m. on Thursday in the first round.