Sage McMinn couldn’t be rattled. Not when he walked the game’s first batter. Not when Billings put two runners on in the fourth. And certainly not when another leadoff batter reached via walk to start the fifth.

As Bozeman’s contest against the Scarlets rolled on Wednesday, so did its starting pitcher. McMinn’s high-speed pitches puzzled Billings. If his performance alone didn’t catch the attention of the Heroes Park crowd, the sound of the ball smacking catcher Ben Hubley’s glove did.

“He just gets out there, and he attacks hitters,” Bucks manager Garrett Schultz said. “He wants the baseball.”

After losing the opener of Wednesday’s doubleheader 6-2, McMinn led the Bucks back in a 7-5 win in the second game. Though Bozeman’s four-game win streak was snapped, the Bucks (20-6) have still won 16 of their last 18 and are 3-2 in conference play.

More injuries cropped up recently and forced three key contributors to miss Wednesday’s games. That led to a lineup of players that needed to step up. Though Schultz said most were “afraid of the moment,” McMinn lifted the Bucks to victory.

He struck out eight batters and walked six in 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on three hits. Despite allowing the leadoff hitter to reach in four of the six innings he began, McMinn dazzled by varying velocity with a fastball and curveball. Billings didn’t record a hit until the fourth and didn’t score until the sixth.

“Threw them off guard,” McMinn said, “and I think that’s what helped us get a (win) today.”

“It was everything. Anything he threw, it didn’t matter what it was,” Schultz said. “He was challenging hitters. … Whatever he was going to throw, he was going to will it over the strike zone and get outs.”

To start Game 2, the Bucks manufactured a run in each of the first two frames. Kelher Murfitt led off with a single in the first, stole second and scored on back-to-back sacrifices. An inning later, Carsten Simcox hit a leadoff single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on back-to-back bunts.

Bozeman then broke the game open in the third by scoring three runs. Murfitt, Hubley and McMinn loaded the bases for Michael Freund, who hit a chopper over the third baseman’s head. The ball bounced into left field as Murfitt and Hubley scored. Simcox then hit a sacrifice groundout to second to bring in McMinn, who moonlighted on the basepaths.

On the mound, McMinn allowed a leadoff walk in the first and third innings but retired six in a row in between. A double play ended the third as he had yet to allow a hit.

Billings’ first hit didn’t come until the fourth when a grounder down the third-base line snuck past a diving Logan Pailthorpe. But McMinn responded by striking out the next two batters. The Scarlets’ Eric Laughlin watched the third strike zoom by to end the inning. Hubley uncorked himself from his crouch and after flipping the ball back to the mound, he celebrated the success by holding his follow-through as if on a basketball court.

“That was huge,” Schultz said. “(McMinn) carried us.”

The Scarlets threatened in the sixth by opening the frame with a single and a walk. Another walk loaded the bases with one out and caused a mound visit before McMinn faced off with Laughlin.

With two strikes, McMinn unloaded a high fastball. Laughlin spun around and his bat only made contact with air. Before heading back to the Billings dugout, he smashed his bat on the dirt in the batter’s box in frustration.

But that was only the Scarlets’ second out as their next batter hit an RBI single to left. That was McMinn’s last pitch of the night before he switched to shortstop. Freund moved to pitcher and allowed another single that cut the Bucks’ lead to three, but he escaped the jam with a pop fly in foul territory.

Freund stayed on to close out the seventh and put the finishing touches on McMinn’s outing. But he walked the first two batters he faced and was replaced by Brady Higgs. Though the tying run stood at second base, the Bucks ultimately emerged victorious and McMinn’s gem remained in tact.

“He dominated for six innings,” Schultz said.

And McMinn’s teammates, albeit barely, took care of the seventh.

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

Paul Schwedelson is a sports writer for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.