Mission Valley Mariners get ready for Kalispell in opening round of districts

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    TIAS FYANT gets a congratulatory hug from winning pitcher Cason Graham after Fyant hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. The 12-U Mission Mariners defeated the Kalispell Lakers 7-6 to capture the 12-U Cal Ripken Western State Montana title in Kalispell Sunday after completing a comeback from a 6-2 deficit. (Photo courtesy of Bob Gunderson)

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    TIAS FYANT gets a congratulatory hug from winning pitcher Cason Graham after Fyant hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the sixth inning. The 12-U Mission Mariners defeated the Kalispell Lakers 7-6 to capture the 12-U Cal Ripken Western State Montana title in Kalispell Sunday after completing a comeback from a 6-2 deficit. (Photo courtesy of Bob Gunderson)

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Mission Valley Mariners coach Tim Rausch is more than confident in his team’s ability as they prepare to enter the District Tournament Thursday in Libby.

Rausch, whose team consists of a total of 20 players combined between the A and B roster, has a young team but the amount of diamond time several players split time the A and B squads allowed his players to grow as baseball players.

One reason Rausch is confident is because of the leadership ability his senior players have demonstrated.

“Between the younger guys and the older who have established a good relationship with each other, those 12 players entering the District Tournament confidence is at an all-time high,” Rausch said. “We are set up in a good position as the sixth seed to win our first game. More than anything, this group of kids have played spectacularly for me, and on and off the field, they are awesome kids.”

The District Tournament, which will include eight games, will have a lot of parity in the tournament, unlike in previous years, which included a couple of dominant teams.

“I think there is a little bit of a mixture of veteran teams and younger teams, and the (tournament) won’t have a ton of older kids,” Rausch said. “Most of the teams (in the tournament) have three or four older kids that are leaders on the team. We have young kids that are developing, and they are fantastic players. We are betting on this team, and we can play with (and compete) with anyone.”

The lack of depth hasn’t hurt the M’s as initially thought. The pitching depth has developed because of the playing time.

“Our pitching and our bats are good enough to win this tournament,” Rausch said. “Our team is playing hot and cold, and pitching-wise we have a lot of guys that come out of nowhere and pitch well for us.

“They are continuing to improve throughout the season. Our team is pitching and throwing strikes, our defense is playing well, and our hitting is coming around. The combination allows us as a team to play above our ability level.”

Gaining experience

All season the lack of depth was an issue for the M’s. With only 20 players between both A and B, several players have played double the amount of Legion games playing both A and B games.

What was supposed to be a logistical issue has allowed the team to gain additional experience.

“We are only getting better, and I think the boys are understanding how important it is to win that first game (in the tournament),” Rausch said. “We should enter this game (against Kalispell) with a lot of confidence. We have played against them five times, and lost to them at home. I am super excited. We looked at who will play the next round, either the Twins or the Mavs.

“We played the Twins extremely well.”

The District Tournament, which is a double-elimination tournament, will either make or break the district tournament.

If the Mariners win the first game in the tournament, Rausch feels strongly about his team’s chance to win as they advance in the competition.”

The Mission Valley Mariners will head into the Legion Baseball tournament as the sixth-seeded team.

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