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Bozeman had been so dominant this season the Bucks rarely faced situations where they needed to battle back.

Before even having the chance to bat Friday in its second game at the state tournament, Bozeman trailed by two runs.

Then the Bucks offense did its damage and Bozeman clawed out an 8-6 win against Helena.

“I think our guys support each other and understand that when we’re playing loose and doing our thing, we have the ability to score a lot of runs,” manager Garrett Schultz said. “We didn’t panic.”

As the lone undefeated team remaining at the Class AA tournament in Billings, Bozeman’s victory clinched a berth in Sunday’s championship.

The top-seeded Bucks (47-12) faced the No. 4-seeded Billings Scarlets on Saturday after presstime. A win against the Scarlets would mean only one victory is required Sunday to win the title rather than two.

Either way, Bozeman is two wins away from its second straight state title. The Bucks’ ability to grind out a game put them in that position.

“I thought it was a really competitive ballgame. It wasn’t easy. Helena is a good team and challenged us early,” Schultz said. “Nice to see our guys respond and really scrap to get that win.”

Earlier this week, Bozeman players said how the state tournament is different than the regular season. More consequences ride on each game and each play. The scope is magnified and pressure could arise.

Despite falling behind 2-0 in the first inning, the Bucks weren’t fazed. They scored three runs in the second, sparked by Logan Pailthorpe and Carsten Simcox walks and an Ethan Faure single. That trio batted sixth, seventh and eighth yet combined to go 3 for 6 with two runs and three RBIs.

“Our six through nine hitters I felt like have really contributed with quality at bats, seeing a lot of pitches, putting the ball in play,” Schultz said. “When they’re contributing the way they have been, and having tough (at bats), it goes a long way for us.”

Schultz complimented hitters for ripping hard grounders that made their way into the outfield. Though Bozeman didn’t generate the power it normally does, the balls that left the infield led to several runs. Ben Hubley also pitched in with two RBIs from the No. 5 spot in the batting order.

Once the lead was established, starting pitcher Sage McMinn settled in. After the first inning, he didn’t allow any more runs until the sixth. McMinn allowed six runs, one unearned, in 5 1/3 innings, but did enough to hold off the Senators from taking back the lead.

Schultz calculated McMinn delivered a strike on nearly 65% of his pitches. McMinn also labored with 21 pitches in the first inning, but he clicked into a rhythm and lifted the Bucks.

“He just went out and did what he usually does for us, which is compete as hard as he can,” Schultz said of McMinn. “Really battled for six innings.”

About an hour after Friday’s victory, Schultz hadn’t decided on Saturday’s starting pitcher. The two wins to start the tournament meant the Bucks already clinched a spot in Sunday’s championship.

But the manager didn’t downplay Saturday’s contest.

“We want to go at it,” Schultz said, “and put ourselves in a better position for Sunday.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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