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State baseball: Florence, Hamilton to meet in All-Bitterroot Valley showdown for championship

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Posted at 6:39 PM, May 17, 2024

MISSOULA — The semifinal round of the state baseball tournament got underway Friday evening at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field in Missoula with four teams vying for a shot at Saturday's title game.

Florence punched the first ticket with a 8-0 win over Belgrade. Hamilton followed that up with a 10-4 win over Butte to secure the All-Bitterroot Valley meeting between the two rivals.

PHOTOS: SEMIFINAL ACTION FROM THE STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT IN MISSOULA

First pitch for Saturday's championship game between the Falcons and Broncs is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Florence 8, Belgrade 0

Florence pitched Mason Arlington gave the performance of the state baseball tournament so far as the Falcon southpaw threw a no-hitter in an 8-0 victory over Belgrade to secure a spot in the state championship game.

The lone blemish on Arlington's outing was a first-inning walk.

"After the first kid got on base I was like, 'This can't happen again,'" Arlington said.

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Florence's Mason Arlington, left, is celebrated by teammates Caleb Katen (16) and Drew Wagner (2) after pitching a no-hitter against Belgrade in the state baseball semifinals on Friday, May 17, 2024.

And it didn't.

Behind his fastball and curveball, the junior racked up 14 strikeouts, including punching out the side in both the second and third innings as he settled in, found his groove and made it feel like a special performance was coming. Arlington even noted he hadn't pitched in the last three weeks before last weekend due to some arm problems.

"I was a little nervous at the start but like all things you have to get over that," Arlington said. "I put trust in my teammates and I knew they'd have my back. I had to do what they wanted to do and I ended up doing better than I thought I was going to do."

Offensively, Florence was rolling early, similar to its quarterfinal win over Eureka on Thursday. Chase Wagner tripled home a run and later scored on an error to make it 2-0 Falcons in the first.

Wes Potter would score on a wild pitch in the second inning to make it 3-0 Falcons, then Drew Wagner hit a deep shot that the left fielder initially caught before slamming into the wall and dropping the ball, which brought home another run for Florence to take a 4-0 lead after two innings.

It became a pitcher's duel from there between Arlington and Belgrade's Landon Wanders, as the latter also settled in. But as Arlington continued to deal and Florence's defense stayed strong, the offense padded the lead in the final innings.

Levi Winters hit an RBI triple in the sixth inning and in the seventh the Falcons added a two-run triple from Jake Roth to give the Falcons plenty of breathing room heading into the final frame, where Arlington got a pop up to the catcher before fanning the final two batters to seal the no-hitter.

"I'm just beyond blessed to have God with me right now," said Arlington, who said he got close twice to no-hitters before Friday. "It's great. I'm fortunate enough to have my catcher (Roth) back there today. He's been with me throughout every single game I've pitched the last four years so we have a great connection and I was like, we had to get this done.

"It means everything. I'm blessed to be here and beyond thankful to be on this team."

The Falcons now await the winner of Butte and Hamilton for their opponent for Saturday's championship, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. Belgrade will play Columbia Falls in a loser-out game at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Hamilton 10, Butte 4

The Hamilton Broncs needed another comeback, but they got it done in dominant fashion as they topped the Butte Bulldogs 10-4 thanks to a big fifth inning.

Butte started fast in this one with a 3-0 lead after two innings. Cayde Stajcar hit an RBI double and was brought in on a sacrifice fly by Quinn Cox. Tocher Lee added an RBI double in the second for the Bulldogs.

Hamilton came alive in the fourth inning as the Broncs tied it up 3-3. Conner Ekin hit a run-scoring single to start it which was followed by an RBI double by Boedy Tadvick. Tadvick then scored on a sacrifice bunt by Jackson Jessop to tie the game as Hamilton held Butte scoreless in the bottom of the inning.

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Hamilton's Boedy Tadvick (10) is celebrated by his teammates after scoring against Butte in the state baseball semifinal round on Friday, May 17, 2024.

In the fifth inning, the Broncs blew the game wide open with a six-run frame. Similar to Thursday's quarterfinal when they trailed early but scored six runs in the fifth inning against Columbia Falls, Hamilton raced past Butte as they loaded the bases, and Ekin drew a walk and Tadvick was hit by a pitch which brought runners home.

Then, Tyce O'Connell did the rest as he smashed a bases-clearing double that firmly put the Broncs in the driver's seat, and Hamilton held on the rest of the way.

"My brain was if I get any type of hit, fly ball to the outfield, that guy is scoring from third, that's all we needed," O'Connell said. "We needed one run and if I put a big hit on it that's three runs right there and I thought I did a great job there.

"It was just exciting seeing all the teammates celebrating, all the guys that came in from the runs. It was amazing, seeing all the fans cheering just knowing that you were a big part of the game."

Butte added a run in the bottom of the sixth but Hamilton responded with one more in the top of the seventh.

Ekin towed the rubber for the complete game performance for Hamilton, as he struck out four.

"Just got to battle through it. We do it to ourselves every time, we shoot ourselves in the foot, let a couple in in the first inning but then we get started," Ekin said. "Get a couple hits going and then we get big innings. Pitching is a lot easier from ahead, and I had a rough time finding it to start off but I had to change a few things and figure it out. It was a fun game.

"I was just thinking get out (down the stretch). I had a couple runs to give but I was trying to make them earn it and not give up any walks or hit by pitch. Make them earn it."

Butte will take on Eureka in a loser-out game at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The third-place game is scheduled for 4 p.m. prior to the championship game between the Broncs and Florence.

"It's big," O'Connell said. "I watched my brother play in a football championship and I wanted to play and be in a championship so bad. It's great knowing we could be a top team in the state."