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Bulldogs runner-up in first-ever high school baseball state championship

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | May 24, 2023 1:00 AM

Whitefish knocked out two high-quality opponents from the Southwest to earn a spot in the MHSA All Class State Baseball Championship Saturday against Polson.

Though the Bulldogs got down early, in the fourth inning they were down by just two runs and catching steam. Polson responded and in the sixth put up three runs that made a comeback increasingly difficult. Still, Whitefish had a chance in the top of the seventh, but Polson shut them down from the mound and took the victory.

“We responded in the fourth with Ty Schwaiger hitting a huge two out, two RBI double in the fourth that brought us within two,” Whitefish head baseball coach Kyler Blades recalled. “But Polson kept swinging it and (pitcher) Espn Fisher was really dialed in after that and didn’t allow any more opportunities for us.”

In Montana High School Association’s inaugural baseball season, Whitefish finished the year 18-3 and the champions, Polson were 19-3. Two teams from the west who went underrated for most of the season, finished the season on top.

“It was cool to see two teams out of the west in the state championship,” Blades said. “It felt like Polson and us (Whitefish) didn’t quite get as much love from the general population this year and we kind of came out and proved that we were teams to be reckoned with.”

To begin the tournament, Whitefish faced Frenchtown in the first round. Bulldog senior pitcher Jacob Polumbus threw a full game, allowing six hits, a walk and two runs and striking out seven. A strong start at the plate put Whitefish in a good position all game. In the first inning, the Bulldogs scored five times as Clayton Godsey had an RBI single and Fynn Ridgeway hit a three-run triple.

“Jacob Polumbus just having the game of his life, maybe,” Blades said. “Just super efficient, really well-pitched game against Frenchtown. Fynn Ridgeway jumpstarted our offense.”

The next day, Whitefish went with another senior pitcher on the mound, Ty Schwaiger — who consistently throws in the low 90s and is committed to play Division I college ball next year. Schwaiger also threw a complete game and kept Hamilton off the scoreboard for the most part. Schwaiger gave up three hits and three walks while striking out seven in five innings as the Bulldogs went on to win 14-3.

“Ty pitched a great game against Hamilton… Hamilton just raked the ball off of Belgrade and Ty came in and shut them down pretty well,” Blades recalled.

Whitefish held a 5-3 lead after two innings. The Bulldogs scored eight runs in the third and ended the game in five innings under the mercy rule. Blades said that Logan Kunz had a good tournament with some hits against Frenchtown and four RBIs against Hamilton. Josiah Ruther had two doubles in back-to-back at-bats against Hamilton.

“Maddox Muller had a great tournament playing at shortstop and hitting the ball hard the entire time,” Blades added.

Then the Saturday Championship matchup was set for Polson and Whitefish to play for the title. Polson had star pitcher Espn Fisher on the mound — he also closed out the Pirates’ 6-4 first-round win on Thursday — and he threw a stellar seven innings. Fisher allowed four runs on six hits and struck out nine.

Fisher also hit well. With two outs in the second inning, the Polson junior hit a fastball to the wall, putting his team ahead 4-1. Then Fisher headed home for the score on a wild pitch, giving the Pirates a commanding 5-1 lead.

Whitefish came back in the top of the fifth led by a single ground ball by Jake McIntyre which scored one and then Schwaiger singled on a line drive to center field to send Maddox Muller and McIntryre home. The score was just 6-4.

“We had the guys to put pressure on [Espn Fisher] and we did,” Blades said. “He responded in such a way that squashed any momentum we had — hats off to them on an extremely well-played game.”

Polson scored three times in the bottom of the sixth to solidify the lead and on Fisher’s last pitch of the game, he hit the 110-pitch limit set by MHSA on his first delivery to McIntyre with two out in the top of the seventh. McIntyre hit a fly ball to center field that ended the game

Though Whitefish didn’t end the season with a championship, a goal they had been striving for all season, the Bulldogs had an extremely successful first season of high school baseball. Whitefish dealt with weather challenges and the snow was slow to melt off Memorial Field. Despite limited outdoor practices, the team bonded and played with heart all season.

“The weather is a big factor for us specifically in Whitefish. But, the joy the kids had, the camaraderie that was created from nothing and the love of the game has grown in the Flathead Valley, and this is just proof of that,” Blades said.

“I really commend Whitefish High School for taking that leap of faith because it’s already paid off. The kids had such a great time together and I was humbled to lead that charge,” he added.

Twenty-one teams began the MHSA’s inaugural baseball season and eight made it to Butte for the state tournament. Now many of the Whitefish players will turn around and this week start up with the local Legion team the Glacier Twins.

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Whitefish senior Ty Schwaiger pitches against Hamilton in the MHSA All Class State Baseball Tournament Friday in Butte. (Photo by Gary Marshall for 406mtsports.com)

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Whitefish senior Jake McIntyre takes a swing at a pitch from Polson's Espn Fisher in the State Baseball Championship game Saturday in Butte. (Photo by Gary Marshall for 406mtsports.com)

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Bulldog Clayton Godsey makes a throw in a game against Hamilton at the State Baseball Tournament in Butte. (Photo by Gary Marshall for 406mtsports.com)

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