Missoula, MT.- The Missoula PaddleHeads Professional Baseball Club was dominant in all facets of the game during the 2021 Pioneer League Season on their way to the franchise’s first league crown in six years. Proof of that was not hard to find as Missoula lead the league in numerous offensive,
Missoula, MT.- The Missoula PaddleHeads Professional Baseball Club was dominant in all facets of the game during the 2021 Pioneer League Season on their way to the franchise’s first league crown in six years. Proof of that was not hard to find as Missoula lead the league in numerous offensive, and defensive categories throughout the regular season. To highlight these efforts, PaddleHeads players have been recognized with Pioneer League post season awards. Highlighting individual award winners was Zach Almond who was named the Pioneer League’s Most Valuable Player. Reliver Mark Simon would also receive the award for the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year.
Along with these individual honors, the Pioneer League also released its All-Star team for the 2021 season. Representing the PaddleHeads on the team were Almond at catcher, and Simon at relief pitcher, along with Clay Fisher at shortstop, and third baseman Cameron Thompson. In the dugout, manager Michael Schlact was also instrumental leading the PaddleHeads to a championship in his first season at the helm in the Garden City. For this accomplishment, the former Texas Rangers farmhand has also been named the Pioneer League Manager of the Year.
A championship team is always one that will leave its mark in history. But few will be able to compare to this PaddleHeads team that was able to dominate at the plate, in the field, and on the mound on their way to a championship. Newly promoted team President Matt Ellis could not be prouder of the accomplishments achieved by these players, and coaches.
“We are honored that the Pioneer League recognized the great achievements made by our PaddleHeads coaches and players this past season,” Ellis said. “Manager Michael Schlact not only led our team to the best record in the Pioneer League, but he guided us to the best winning percentage in all of professional baseball. If there was a National Manager of the Year award, he would have won that as well as this Pioneer League Award. He was that good this past season. We also are elated with Zach Almond, Mark Simon, Cameron Thompson, and Clay Fisher being honored for their individual accomplishments. To sweep the Manager of the Year, MVP, and Pitcher of the Year Awards is a great honor for our franchise.”
The MVP award for Almond was a fitting honor for a player who enjoyed one of the best overall offensive seasons in Pioneer League history. The North Carolina native recorded the most home runs in league history finishing with twenty-six long balls surpassing the previous record of twenty-three. Almond also finished in the top five in the league in RBIs (92) and was second on the team in batting average at .353 during the regular season.
It was easy to see Almond’s importance to the PaddleHeads on the field when looking at the offensive milestones that the former member of the Osprey was able to attain. But in the eyes of his manager Michael Schlact, it was the things that were not seen on the field that truly set Almond apart.
“Almond had a career year on the field, which earned him the award for Most Valuable Player,” Schlact said. “However, what people didn’t see was his leadership qualities off the field. Almond represented the PaddleHeads in the community and earned the respect of his teammates in the clubhouse. A Most Valuable Player should be someone that is a well-rounded individual on & off the field. Zach is that & then some. I’m so proud of all he accomplished.”
Mark Simon enjoyed a fabulous season out of the PaddleHeads bullpen in 2021 establishing himself as the league’s most dominant closer. The Houston native would lead all relief pitchers in innings pitched with sixty while accumulating a 2.72 ERA during the regular season. Despite pitching in the bullpen, Simon’s 87 strikeouts would also rank in the top five in the Pioneer League amongst all pitchers. The award for Simon truly was deserving for more reasons than one.
“Mark dominated on the mound all season long & was instrumental in our championship run,” Schlact said. “Along with his on-field accolades, he also took a young pitching staff & showed them how to be professionals. Simon is a consummate pro himself and earned the respect of teammates and competitors alike. I couldn’t be happier and more proud of him.”
The journey for team manager Michael Schlact in the baseball world began as a player spending time in the Texas Rangers system as a pitcher. After an injury shortened playing career, the Georgia native turned to coaching. Schlact would first get the opportunity to manage with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks of the American Association before making his first appearance in the Pioneer League as a pitching coach with the Rocky Mountain Vibes in 2019.
Schlact once again returned to the managerial ranks in his first season in Missoula however in 2021 leading the the PaddleHeads to their sixth league title in franchise history. It would be a special moment for Schlact personally as it was the first professional championship that he had been a part of as player or coach. Not only that, but Schlact has also been named the Pioneer League Manager of the Year for the first time in his coaching career. A milestone that he feels he could not have attained without the Missoula community.
“A manager is nothing without the support of the front office, the game day staff, incredible assistant coaches, and talented players,” Schlact said. “2021 was an incredibly special year. Without this team of people & players around me this award does not happen.”
The Pioneer League All-Star team would feature four members of the PaddleHeads with Clay Fisher, and Cameron Thompson joining Almond, and Simon. Fisher would be recognized as the league’s best short stop while Thompson would receive the same honor at third base.
Despite having Fisher’s season cut short due to an injury suffered on August 28, the product of UC Santa Barbara would compile some of the strongest offensive numbers in the Pioneer League finishing with nineteen home runs in just sixty-one games played to go along with a team best .401 batting average which was good for second in the Pioneer League overall.
Thompson would also enjoy a fabulous year in his first year as a professional out of Kansas State University finishing with a .351 average to go along with twenty-seven doubles and thirteen home runs. Thompson would also deliver on the biggest stage in the Pioneer League Championship series hitting a pivotal go-ahead home run in the late innings of Game one to help lead the PaddleHeads to a win.
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