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With a runner on base, Rhett Hays saw his chance.

With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Hays unleashed his swing on a 1-0 pitch. He crushed the ball, bombarding the scoreboard in left field. He jogged around the bases and was greeted with high-fives at the plate.

The Bucks were three days removed from a disheartening loss to the Belgrade Bandits, and Hays felt like he was in a slump after that contest. Bozeman wasted little time to respond.

The two-time defending state champion Bucks grabbed the early lead and defeated the Helena Senators 11-1 after six innings in a nonconference tilt on Saturday at Heroes Park.

“I thought the boys played really well,” Bucks manager Garrett Schultz said. “I do feel like we’re getting better and better every single day.

“That hasn’t been reflected in the win column yet, so it’s hard to judge that if you’re not down here watching.”

The home run and eventual win was reflective of Bozeman’s season thus far.

The Bucks moved to 5-5 after the victory with another game lined up against the Gillette (Wyoming) Roughriders late Saturday. The Bucks also had scheduled to play the Roughriders at 10 a.m. and the Billings Royals at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Bucks have suffered narrow and harrowing losses already this season. They fell twice to the Senators on walk-offs. The Kalispell Lakers also topped Bozeman with nine runs in the bottom of the seventh frame. The Lewistown Redbirds handed the Bucks a one-run loss as well with a five-run sixth.

“It’s tough, especially because we lost close games,” Bozeman’s Logan Pailthorpe said. “We made a lot of errors and mistakes. As the season has gone on, we’ve tried to iron those out and fix those and it’s helped.”

The Bucks entered the week at .500 knowing they were utterly close to being undefeated.

They lost at home 10-2 to the Bandits and were seeking to bounce back as they have so many times already.

Schultz noted the Bucks are trying to establish depth, which means involving more players — especially pitchers — to gain experience. Saturday evening’s lineup, for example, was different than during the afternoon contest.

“We’re building for a successful summer,” Schultz said. “Yes, I would like to be winning more games right now, and I think we’re poised to do that, but we’re trying to develop and establish that depth we’re going to need in June and July.”

Bozeman’s offense wasn’t as explosive as desired against Belgrade. Hays, for example, wasn’t producing as much as he expected.

During the last week, he emphasized timing with his swing. In his first at-bat Saturday, Hays anticipated a fastball and waited for just the right moment to unleash his swing. He finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs.

“It felt good to go out there, be on time and get my pitch and crush the ball. I really think that gave the team momentum,” Hays said. “I think that was a big turning point.”

Helena threatened to take control of the contest when Victor Scott drove in a run in the top of the third. Down by one, the Senators loaded the bases. But Chris Wrench worked himself out of the jam by striking out a batter looking.

Pailthorpe and Schultz pointed to pitching as a key ingredient to Saturday’s success. In 4 ⅔ innings, Wrench allowed one run on two hits and four walks with four strikeouts.

“Today, we’re going to build off of,” Schultz said. “For our guys to come out and be successful against Helena, who’s had a really nice spring, gives us some confidence and momentum.”

The Bucks extended their lead with a three-run fourth. Following a Dillon Coleman triple to right field, Kellen Harrison drove him in on another hard hit to right. One of Pailthorpe’s two doubles led to Harrison scoring.

Pailthorpe, with impeccable timing, provided Bozeman a 5-1 advantage when he stole home on an intended squeeze play. Pailthorpe also scored on an error in the sixth.

“It feels good, especially coming off of our loss against Belgrade,” Pailthorpe said. “We had a lot of things to iron out, and we did that this game.”

Coleman drove in another run in the fifth and scored his own run afterward. Jackson Burke also scored on an error in the fifth and finished the game off with a one-run single. He was one of six Bucks to tally two hits.

“We’ve had a lot of close games against those guys for sure, and it feels good to go out there and beat them,” Hays said. “They’re one of the better teams in the state, and to get a 10-run win, especially after a tough game against Belgrade on Wednesday night, it could be a turning point for this team and hopefully we can keep battling, competing and winning.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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