The longest road trip for the Gallatin Valley Outlaws this season called for the team to fill two large vans to reach Gillette, Wyoming.
After winning the Montana Class A championship on Monday, however, they were rewarded with a travel plan that dwarfs a mere caravan.
Following their 10-0 win against Glacier, the Outlaws began making plans to head home and pack for a Thursday flight to Anchorage, Alaska, where the Northwest Regional Tournament begins on Friday.
“We’re going to be able to fly for the first time as a team,” pitcher and outfielder Bo Hays said, “and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Hays and fellow senior Isaac Richardson, an infielder, said the team features strong friendships that have formed not only over time, but also through the lessons learned of experiencing three consecutive third-place finishes at the state tournament prior to this season.
“We’ve all grown super close to each other,” Richardson said, “and we’ve been able to be around each other for three or four summers now, and it’s really helped us become a unit.”
They will hope that togetherness pays off and results in one more tournament run. The Outlaws begin play at noon Friday against Marsh Valley, the Idaho state champion. The rest of the bracket is filled out with five Alaska teams and the Wyoming champion from Cody.
To reach this point of the season is rare for Gallatin Valley, to say nothing of teams from Montana’s Southern District in general. Since 1993 when Dillon won the state title, only Gallatin Valley in 2005 and this season won the state championship as representatives of the Southern District.
“That shows you how hard it is,” said Duwayne Scott, Gallatin Valley’s manager since 1998. “It’s one of those deals that you just can’t assume it’s going to happen.
“It always seems to be somebody out of the West, the Bitterroots or the Glaciers, that win this thing. We take a lot of pride in representing the South District.”
That sense of pride extends to the team’s players.
“Having that under our belts and having accomplished that, it’s a great feeling,” Richardson said.
To keep this successful season going, the Outlaws will need to maintain their strong pitching and timely hitting from everywhere in the lineup.
“These guys have been locked in since the first of June,” Scott said. “I thought April and May, we felt ourselves out a little bit. And since we went to Havre the first of June for a tournament, I think since then our guys have really been focused.”
After a 5-0 run through the state tournament, a stretch that saw the Outlaws outscore their opponents 44-13, the team feels like it’s in a good place.
“We really just played clean baseball, and we played to the level that we knew we can play to,” Hays said.
Scott believes the team’s veterans — Hays, Richardson, Brady Jones, Patrick Dietz and Mayson Shively, among others — have learned from the close calls in past state tournaments and channeled those experiences into helping the team reach new heights this year. Scott credited the team for staying level-headed and recognizing each day’s task.
“I don’t think our guys ever look at how many games they win in a row,” he said. “I try to make sure they understand they got to win the game that’s in front of them, not five down the road.”
Gallatin Valley plays the first game of the regional tournament, which will be at 10 a.m. local time in Alaska. Scott is hopeful that by not having to watch other teams play first, or wait through the opening ceremonies in the evening, his team will not have much time to let nerves settle in.
Playing first thing in the morning has been a sign of good fortune for the Outlaws.
“The state championship game was in the morning,” Richardson said. “I feel like once we roll out of bed and get warmed up and get going early, we play our best baseball.”
Gallatin Valley also played the first game of the state tournament, which was also in the morning.
“That calms some nerves because we couldn’t compare ourselves to any of the other teams yet so we just played our own game,” Hays said. “I think that’s going to happen in Alaska too.”