By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF
BILLINGS – In the world of competitive athletics, a team’s ultimate goal is to win a championship. As daunting as winning one title can be, doing so for two consecutive seasons is an even more impressive feat, yet one that the class AA Bozeman Bucks American Legion baseball team accomplished on Aug. 9 at Dehler Park in Billings. They defeated the No. 2 seed Helena Senators 5-0 in the championship game, defending their 2019 state tournament victory.
“A lot of emotions all at once, but mostly just happy and grateful that we had that opportunity” said Bucks head coach Garrett Schultz, reflecting on his team’s accomplishment.
Entering tournament play as the No. 1 seed, the Bucks earned a first-round bye in the seven-team bracket. They breezed through the winners bracket defeating the No. 5 seed Billings Royals and the Senators on Aug. 6 and 7 respectively.
As a result, the Bucks locked up an automatic bid to the championship. They faced the Billings Scarlets in a “crossover game” between the winner’s and loser’s sides of the tournament bracket to determine if Bozeman’s opponent would need to beat them twice in the finals or if it would come down to a winner-take-all matchup.
The Bucks fell to the Scarlets, 5-3, setting up a showdown in the championship. The Senators handled the Scarlets and earned their second chance to knock off the Bucks.
It was not meant to be though as Bozeman plated five first inning runs, while holding Helena scoreless en route to the 5-0 shutout and their second consecutive Montana and Alberta American Legion Baseball class AA state tournament.
“I was just really happy for our team and for our community. We have great community support in Bozeman,” Schultz said.
When the Buck’s head coach was asked what he will remember most from this season, he said: “The state tournament because we got to be together so much and then obviously to cap it with a win at the state tournament, [it] is going to be really memorable for us.”
The team’s time together included a single hotel stay throughout the entire season—in Billings for the state tournament. While there the Bucks held daily team meetings two times each day that included sharing goals amongst teammates, as well as team meals.
Schultz doesn’t believe COVID-19 impacted the way that his team bonded in comparison to any other season. “I think this group has always been close,” he said. “… I don’t think it had a huge, huge impact but I do think it gave the kids some perspective and they didn’t take anything for granted.”
A championship trophy isn’t the only recognition that the Bucks players received as Alton Gyselman was named most valuable player of the tournament, while teammate Logan Pailthorpe took home batting champion honors.
Additionally, five Bucks were chosen to the 2020 class AA All-State team. Gyselman was joined by Sage McMinn, who was honored for his efforts at 1st base as well as on the pitcher’s mound, Ben Hubley, Kelher Murfitt and Hunter Williams. Pailthorpe was also named to the 2020 class AA All-Conference team.
“[I feel] gratitude that everybody in Montana was able to come together and pull off the season,” Schultz said.
Of the 18 athletes on the Bucks roster for the 2020 season, eight players could return to the team next season.