Bozeman Bucks v Gallatin Valley (copy)

Bozeman’s Ethan Faure barely beats a tag while sliding into third base against Gallatin Valley on May 30 at Heroes Park in Bozeman.

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With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Ethan Faure read the pitcher’s delivery and anticipated a throw into the dirt. So as soon as the ball skidded by the catcher, Faure took off from third base.

Even though the ball only went about 8 feet behind the catcher, Faure slid safely into home. The insurance run helped Bozeman close out the 6-3 win Tuesday against the Billings Royals. The Bucks won the first game of the doubleheader, too, 5-3.

Manager Garrett Schultz called Faure stealing home “the highlight of the night.”

“The ability to trust his read out of the pitcher’s hand was a big-time play,” Schultz said. “To go up three runs helped us play a little looser and it was a great way to build some momentum to close that ball game.”

With Tuesday’s two victories, Bozeman (33-10) improved to 9-1 in conference play. After the Bucks’ offense carried the team through the early part of the season, pitching and defense has improved to the point Bozeman can win games even when its offense isn’t fully clicking.

“Pitching and defense led the way,” Schultz said. “Our pitching and defense have been really good lately. It was really good (Tuesday) night and a conference sweep was a good thing.”

In conference games, the Bucks have averaged 7.6 runs and 2.8 runs allowed.

Sage McMinn started Game 1 on Tuesday, pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and one run while striking out seven. Drew Roberts came on in relief in both games, sealing up both victories.

Parker McMan threw six innings of three-run ball in the second game of the doubleheader. He struck out four batters, walked none and allowed seven hits. McMan’s performance continued a run of solid outings as he’s become more reliable.

“He’s gotten better every single time out,” Schultz said. “He’s quicker to the plate. … He’s been able to locate his fastball. He’s done great.”

Earlier in the season, the Bucks’ offense was so hot that the recent stretch seems like a lull. In both games Tuesday, Billings recorded more hits than Bozeman. But the Bucks, despite totalling just three hits in Game 2, were opportunistic on the base paths.

As the season progressed, players grew more comfortable with each other, receiving more opportunities to sharpen their defense. The recent improvement on the mound and in the field has allowed Bozeman to continue winning.

“It’s not every day that you’re firing on all cylinders, that your offense, defense and pitching are all dialed in,” Schultz said. “We have the ability to be good in all three and sometimes one or two is picking up the other.”

Schultz structured the Bucks’ schedule to prepare for a state tournament run. June was filled with matchups against out-of-state opponents that could challenge Bozeman.

The next two weeks include the final 13 games of the regular season. All 13 are conference games and Schultz said the team places a high emphasis on those contests.

“We’ve taken care of the business the way we’ve needed to do it,” Schultz said. “We’re off to a great start.”

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