The Bitterroot Red Sox American Legion baseball team finds itself in a different position Thursday heading into the five-day 2018 Northwest Class A Regional Tournament (NWCART) starting Friday. Mainly, the Red Sox aren't Montana's Class A state champion.
That title belongs to the Glacier Twins of Whitefish.
But by virtue of a NWCART state-rotating runner-up bid that landed in Montana this season, Bitterroot's second-place finish at the Class A State Tournament last weekend qualified the Sox for a return to the regional, this year in Lewiston, Idaho.
And that's somewhere the Red Sox have shown they're quite comfortable being.
The Red Sox won the regional tournament in 2015 and 2016 to go along with three straight Montana/Alberta Class A state titles from 2015-2017. This season, however, Bitterroot has played second fiddle every step of the way to the Twins.
"...I told them last night (at practice) that I’m tired of taking second place," head coach Jason Goligoski said. "We’ve taken second at districts, at (state), and at a big tournament (this season) we took second. I said it’s time to go win one of these tournaments. So maybe this will be the weekend."
According to Goligoski, the Red Sox have a sterling 34-13 record this season. Six of those losses, however, have come against Glacier, including two at last weekend's state tournament.
"We want them pretty bad. They've got us a lot this year and I feel like we have more to offer against them," Red Sox second baseman Cameron Rothie said. "We just gotta do the little things and we can go out and get them."
Before the Red Sox can earn some season-long redemption against Glacier however, they have to get by the hosting Lewiston Cubs on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Not only will there be a hostile crowd in a town that flat out supports baseball, according to Red Sox assistant coach Travis Smith, it's one of the premier places to play ball in the Northwest.
The tournament is at Lewis-Clark State College's Harris Field, home of the NAIA College World Series.
"It’s a premier night right after opening ceremonies," Goligoski said. "...We gotta respect (Lewiston) — come out, jump on them — because if you let a (host) team like that hang around, they’re going to feed off the crowd and anything can happen in the later innings if you don’t do your work early."
Fortunately, the Red Sox have the table setters to start the game off in their favor.
Rothie leads things off, followed by Jason's son, Tanner, the team's shortstop. Matt Brown, the catcher in his last season with the Red Sox, bats third. Hunter Omlid — the pitching staff's anchor — hits cleanup.
"Those first two have gotta be on there stealing bases, putting pressure on the defense and scoring runs, and my 3-4 (hitters), they’ve gotta be driving runs in. That’s what you get paid for," coach Goligoski said.
They're strong up the middle of the diamond defensively by design, and they can put the heat on while batting. For instance, by Tanner Goligoski's estimation, the rising senior at Hamilton estimates he has 50 steals this season.
Meaning a quick start could be imminent Friday in Lewiston.
"We have the same goal as before — we're going over there to win it, to compete, and we'll see what happens," Tanner Goligoski said.
While the Red Sox don't want to overlook their first-round matchup Friday, dreams of a potential rematch with the rival Glacier Twins were hard to displace Thursday outside of Vester Wilson Park in Hamilton as the Bitterroot boys readied the bus for Lewiston. The most straightforward route in the double-elimination tournament for the two teams to meet would be in the undefeated semifinal matchup on Sunday at 7 p.m.
Omlid and Brown — potential battery mates for the matchup — were certainly intrigued by the opportunity.
"Every time we've played (against the Twins), we've played a good game, but they've just managed to squeak it out every time," said Omlid, whose squad was topped 2-1 in the undefeated state semifinal last week, and 8-6 in the state title match against Glacier. "Even though they've beat us six times this year, if we could get one against them in the biggest part of the year, that'd be great."
Brown looked inward when theorizing how to get over the hump against Glacier.
"We pride ourselves on our pitching, defense and timely hitting, and we just haven't had it going against them this year," the catcher said.
No time like the regional tournament for that to change.
For updates on the Red Sox run at regionals, visit http://nwcart.org/, or follow @khotel on Twitter.