Missoula, MT.- The objective was simple on Friday night on the final day of the first half of the regular season with the Missoula PaddleHeads playing host to the Billings Mustangs. A victory for Missoula would clinch the first half pennant in the Pioneer League. However, the Idaho Falls Chukars
Missoula, MT.- The objective was simple on Friday night on the final day of the first half of the regular season with the Missoula PaddleHeads playing host to the Billings Mustangs. A victory for Missoula would clinch the first half pennant in the Pioneer League. However, the Idaho Falls Chukars would enter the day just one game off the pace. Things would not look good for the PaddleHeads early as they fell into an 8-2 hole in the fifth inning. It would also be clear that no help would be coming from the plains of Southern Idaho as the Chukars would roll to an 8-0 victory. Missoula faced a challenging schedule through the entirety of the first half. Friday’s game would prove to be just another obstacle.
Unfazed by the quick start by the Mustangs, the PaddleHeads would race back with 14 unanswered runs from the fifth inning on earning a 16-8 victory. In the process, the PaddleHeads claimed the Northern Division First-Half Pennant in the Pioneer League. This ensures that all roads leading to the League Championship in the Division will go through the Garden City.
The schedule in the first half for Missoula was truly daunting with the PaddleHeads playing 15 games opposite the Southern Division First-Half Champion Ogden Raptors (29-19), and 9 opposite the Chukars (34-14). Despite this, Missoula was able to finish the first half with the league’s best record. A feat that PaddleHeads Vice President Matt Ellis was truly proud of.
“I’m so proud of these guys, they played so hard for so many days in a row,” Ellis said. “They finished the first half with the best record in all of Independent baseball. Our schedule was not in our favor at all, but they battled through it. Friday’s game was a microcosm of how the hole half went. You never doubted this team was going to win when they were behind at any point in the game. They just found ways to win.”
Trailing by six, the PaddleHeads would start to head down the comeback trail in the fifth with a three-run rally to cut the lead to 8-5. Jose Reyes drove in a pair in the inning on an RBI single to highlight the frame. Reyes would finish 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs, and 2 runs-scored.
McClain O’Conner would cross home plate in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly from Bradon Riley which gave the PaddleHeads their first lead of the game making the score 9-8. O’Conner would also drive in a run in the inning on a single to put an exclamation point on a fabulous night at the plate.
The Nevada native would keep Missoula in the game in the early innings with a pair of home runs in the first, and fourth innings. O’Conner would finish the night 4-for-5 with 3 driven-in and four runs scored. The former Gaucho battled through injuries during his final season at the colligate level at UC Santa Barbara and was grateful to have the opportunity to suit up with the PaddleHeads.
“I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given to play baseball here in Missoula,” O’Conner said. “I was hurt during my entire senior year of college. It is great to finally be healthy. My teammates, and coaches have helped me a lot along the way. I plan to just keep working hard and let the chips fall as they may.”
Mark Simon cemented himself into a late inning role out of the bullpen over the course of the first half finishing with six saves to lead the team. The Houston native may have not been on the mound to record the final out of the ballgame but was instrumental in his three innings of work striking out five batters while only allowing a pair of hits.
The PaddleHeads would break the game open in the bottom of the eighth inning thanks to a pair of home runs. After a three-run blast from Cameron Thompson, Aaron Bond would punctuate the inning with a grand slam to put the game out of reach. Thompson would finish the game 1-for-3 while Bond was 2-for-4.
As the PaddleHeads celebrated their first half pennant Friday, there were many smiles faces, and champagne showers to be had. A fitting ending to what was a special 48 game stretch for this club. Now, a new challenge will come into the forefront in the form of the second half of the Pioneer League Season. The new journey begins Saturday opposite the Billings Mustangs (18-30). Catch the game on SWX Montana and ESPN Missoula 102.9 F.M. Pregame coverage begins at 7:00 p.m.
With the PaddleHeads season now underway, our ‘Adopt A PaddleHead’ host family program is still in need of families that would potentially be in interested in housing a player or coach for the 2021 season. Families are encouraged to contact the front office at (406) 543- 3300 with any questions. To apply for our host family program please email [email protected].
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