Boise, ID.- The Missoula PaddleHeads left nothing to doubt in the deciding game of the Pioneer League Championship Series on Wednesday evening opposite the Boise Hawks running away with a 14-1 victory. It truly was a fitting ending to what was a special season of baseball in the Garden City
Boise, ID.- The Missoula PaddleHeads left nothing to doubt in the deciding game of the Pioneer League Championship Series on Wednesday evening opposite the Boise Hawks running away with a 14-1 victory. It truly was a fitting ending to what was a special season of baseball in the Garden City that saw the PaddleHeads finish with a 65-31 record during the regular season. Including games played in the postseason, the PaddleHeads finished with a .680 winning percentage the highest in all of professional baseball.
Despite achieving a great level of success, the PaddleHeads would face many challenges as the season progressed. Missoula was pressed by the Idaho Falls Chukars in the first half of the regular season that saw the first half pennant race come down to the final day of the half. Missoula persevered with a first half pennant title. In the second half of the season, Missoula would show some signs of fatigue falling to a (17-16) record by the third week of August. The PaddleHeads would rally however finishing with a 13-2 record over the final 15 games of the regular season to finish with the best record in the Northern Division in the second half as well.
Another challenge would then face the PaddleHeads in the Pioneer League Championship series opposite an upstart Hawks team that finished with the best record in the second half in the Southern Division. Missoula would find themselves 6 outs away from a league title in game 2 of the series going into the bottom of the eighth with a 4-1 lead. The Hawks would find a way to rally late to push the series to the third and decisive game. The loss was a tough pill to swallow considering how close they came to taking home a title. But it proved to be just another hurdle that this club would be able to overcome.
PaddleHeads Vice President Matt Ellis had seen this club go through the trials, and tribulations of the season and had no doubt they would be able to perform well on the biggest stage to bring home a championship.
“This is just what this team did all season long when their backs were against the wall,” Ellis said. “We always have found a way to rally when facing challenges through the season. Nothing that took place over the course of the season showed that this team would not perform well in games with the highest stakes. I was confident that we were built to bring home this championship and that is what we did.”
The PaddleHeads season began on a brisk evening on May 22 when baseball made its triumphant return to Missoula after a year absence due to the pandemic. Manager Michael Schlact saw his team show signs of things to come on that evening opposite the Voyagers when Missoula opened the season with an 11-4 win. Schlact had accomplished many things in his professional career as both a player and coach. But winning a championship was something that had evaded the Georgia native until this season.
Schlact began the season with a goal in mind and that goal was to win a championship. He began this process by instilling a culture with the team from the start of the season which proved to a successful strategy as Missoula would roll through a substantial portion of the regular season. Schlact could not have been prouder of what this group was able to accomplish.
“It all starts with having the right mindset,” Schlact said. “We tried to set the tone at the beginning of the season by establishing a culture within the team to continue throughout the season. To see that continue through the season and come to fruition was huge. It’s hard to process emotion like this, these guys never quit.”
While the quest for a 2021 Pioneer League Championship is now complete, that does not mean the road to success for the franchise ended their. It is clear that the organization wants to continue to build upon the winning culture that was created this season. The journey toward a 2022 championship will soon begin and the city of Missoula should expect more success from this organization in the years to come.
“We have a solid foundation laid down for 2022,” Ellis said. “We are going to enjoy this victory for a little while. Then the front office, and coaching staff will start getting things put together for next season. We hope to have a strong core of returning players next season as well. My message to the city of Missoula is that we will be a strong baseball team. We are trying to build something long lasting with success seen on and off the field. This successful year was a great first step in that process.”
It will be intriguing to see where this franchise goes from here, but one thing will always be true. This team truly was able to do something special this season on the road to a title. A cool September night in Boise brought the tale of the 2021 Missoula PaddleHeads to a close. But this will only be one chapter in the story of this franchise. Where things go from here remains to be seen, but 2021 sure seemed like a great launching point.