The playoffs have arrived for class 'A' legion baseball teams throughout the Treasure State. Thursday morning the Western District tournament kicks off in Eureka. We caught up with the top two seeds that hope to do well there and punch their tickets to the state tournament.
The team to beat again this year at the Western District tournament will be the Mission Valley Mariners out of Polson. For the second straight season they won the conference, this year doing so with a 19-5 conference record.
"It feels pretty good just being where we were last year," said Mission outfielder Zeke Webster-Yaqui. "We've just got to take it one game at a time and stay hungry."
"Oh we're just trying to do what we can to get these kids back in the championship game and to hopefully keep moving on from tournament to tournament," says Mariners head coach Jami Hanson.
"I think we have a pretty good shot at taking Districts again this year," said infielder Jeremiah Crawford. "We just have to play our game and not let other teams put pressure on us; we have to put pressure on them."
And as much as these guys don't want to talk about it, it's definitely in the back of their mind that if they could get past Districts and win another state title. That would make two state championships in a row.
"I try not to think about it too much but it's always in the back of my mind," admits Mission pitcher Kellen Hoyt. "Thinking about if we could win state two years in a row that'd be amazing especially my last year here."
"Trying to take it one step at a time but yeah getting the state title is definitely... lingering," agreed infielder T.J. Olson.
The number two seed at this week's tournament will be the Bitterroot Bucs out of Florence who finished only one game behind Mission in the standings with a conference record of 18-6.
"We've worked hard the entire season for this moment and nothing that we've done earlier in the season matters at this point, we have a clean slate," explained Bitterroot head coach Brendan Brown.
There's no question that the Bucs are the hottest team entering this week's District Tournament, they've won six straight conference games over the past week with two of those wins coming against the top-seeded Mission Mariners.
"That's huge to come off on a high note, that's a great feeling," said infielder and pitcher Cody Rolshoven.
"Well that's great heading into Districts," adds catcher Kadin Beller. "I feel like we have been playing our best baseball lately, we've had three or four comeback wins this week alone. I feel like we're coming in hot to the District Tournament and that's exciting."
One of the toughest obstacles for players and teams to overcome at this point in the year is keeping their focus when they've put in a 70 game season already.
"It's tough for kids this age not to get burned out," says Brown. "So we've done everything possible to keep them excited and keep them up for games."
"There's times when you just get burned out and you want to quit but then you get on a big hot streak like we've been on and then it kind of re-energizes you," says Rolshoven.
"Last year towards the end I think we were kind of burned out and we didn't play together as a team towards the end of the year," explained Beller. "This year I think we're a lot stronger as a team and we've got more team unity this year and I think we're a lot better going into Districts this year than last year."