Livingston Braves prepare bullpen for district tournament

Sage McMinn winds back for a pitch during a Southern A baseball game against the Helena Reps on Sunday at Kindrick Field in Helena. Enterprise photo by Jordan P. Ingram.
Jordan P. Ingram
Enterprise Staff Writer

The American Legion summer baseball postseason kicks off in roughly 24 hours, and the No. 6-seed Livingston Braves are preparing to defend their Southern A district tournament crown. 

After finishing the 2017 regular season with victories over top-ranked Belgrade and Helena, the Braves (16-28) appear to have gathered a head of steam just in time for the playoffs. And if there is anything Livingston fans can take away from a season of ups and downs, it’s that these Braves can beat the best of them.

“If I was playing us, I would be a little bit anxious/scared,” Livingston coach Bruce Lay said. “Belgrade went 27-1 and everybody knows where that loss came from. So, for the first two games we are going to be really dangerous.” 

The Braves open the district tournament against No. 3 Gallatin Valley at 4 p.m. on Thursday at the Copper Mountain sports complex in Butte. The Braves are 1-3 against the Outlaws during the regular season, recording a total of 42 hits and scoring 34 runs in their four-game series with GVO. 

This week, the Braves have returned to the diamond and had a solid practice on Tuesday night, according to Bruce.           

“We looked strong again,” Bruce said. “And the ball was flying all over the field.”

Strong, consistent hitting from Buck Spallone, Zander Petrich, Sage McMinn and Brock Peterson have helped the Braves all season to overcome one of their biggest weaknesses — an inconsistent bullpen.

“It would be nice if we had enough pitchers where we could break up pitch counts, but we don’t have that luxury,” Bruce said. “So, our plan for Thursday is to start Sage or Buck and pitch them as long as they can stay in the game.” 

A total of ten players have tried their hand on the mound for Livingston, but only a few have regularly delivered throughout the season. The Braves have thrown more walks (284) than strikeouts (216), holding a lofty 6.170 team ERA.

Former Livingston Braves pitcher Sterling Lay recently arrived in Park County on summer break from Salt Lake Community College to help educate and motivate the bullpen.

Sterling was a two-time American Legion All-State pitcher for the Braves before joining the 2017 SLCC Bruins baseball team. The Livingston standout said his first year playing college ball was an eye-opening experience that he hopes to share with his former Legion team.    

“When I went to SLCC, it was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life,” Sterling said. “They taught me so much.”

“I’m just trying to help adjust their pitching mentality because there is so much more to it — from learning pitching sequences to researching hitters — and I’m just trying to get them more knowledgeable.”

Sterling is joined by his uncle, Randy Petrich, a former pitcher at Spokane Falls Community College, who is also contributing to the coaching staff in preparation for the upcoming Class A playoffs. 

Sterling said the team has been receptive to his suggestions and maintains that the key to success on the mound is slowing the game down and remembering the basics.

“I just tell them to make the game simple,” Sterling said. “If you’re up on the mound and everything is flying through your head, it’s gonna be a struggle. Be comfortable and stick to your form and your training. It makes the game so much easier.” 

And for coach Bruce Lay, the added support from his son has provided a huge lift.

“(Sterling) has a lot more knowledge than we do, especially in the pitching arena after a successful first year playing college ball,” Bruce said. “Next thing you know, everyone is huddled around him and listening to what Sterling has to say.” 

Up next

The opening round of the Southern A District Tournament begins on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Copper Mountain sports complex in Butte. No. 6 Livingston Braves will play No. 3 Gallatin Valley Outlaws at 4 p.m. on Thursday in Butte.