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The Trappers wrapped up their end quickly Thursday, beating Idaho Falls 8-1 by 9:25 p.m. in Derks Field and, really, having a stranglehold on things since a 7-0 lead in the second inning.

Then came the hard part: Waiting.They went into Thursday's game with a magic number of two for winning the Pioneer League Southern Division - a Trapper win and Helena loss would put defending-champ Salt Lake in its second straight league finals, this time against North victor Billings.

The hitch was the Helena loss. The Copper Kings were ahead all the way in the game at Butte, and they kept adding to their lead. The Trapper celebration was held on ice until the title was official about half an hour later with Butte's 15-2 win.

The wait was nasty, said Cecil Pettiford, who pitched his first complete game to move to 5-2 on a five-hit, eight-strikeout performance. "You're sitting around, it's musty, you want to get back to your girl, you're hungry . . .," Pettiford said.

"This is weird. I feel like I'm in the eye of the storm," said an anxious Nick Belmonte, winner of his third divisional title in three years as Trapper manager. Belmonte lives in North Miami Beach, Fla., so he knows about storms, although he lost only a tool shed to Hurricane Andrew.

General manager Dave Baggott got the Helena radio broadcast on the telephone in the Derks pressbox and put the phone to the PA system so the Traps and 60 or so fans who waited with them could hear the play-by-play. The team brought the ingredients for its celebration onto the field, and corks popped with the last Brewer out.

"It was worth the wait," said John Gilligan, the Trappers' relief ace who led the league in ERA last year and was 7-2 with a 2.06 ERA and nine saves this year. "This year, I think, is better," said


Gilligan. His reasoning was that things were settled early last year; this year was iffy, especially when the club lost five straight last week to fall a game behind Helena. "It was looking bad," he said.

"It seemed like it was destiny for them to win it," agreed Belmonte, recalling how Helena took two of the last three games in Salt Lake and came from behind twice for two more wins in Helena, then the Traps lost their fifth straight at Butte 10-9 in the bottom of the ninth inning. "Our guys didn't panic. They could have folded the tents. It was a great comeback by our club," Belmonte said.

And the best Pioneer pennant race he's seen, Belmonte added. "We never had a club play .680 (Helena) baseball and chase us," he said.

The Trappers are 51-23 with games against Idaho Falls Friday and Saturday nights. Helena is 48-26 with two left.

The Traps open the best-of-three playoff series Monday night at Billings. Game 2 is Tuesday in Derks, and Game 3, if necessary, is Wednesday in Derks.

"After we left Helena a game back, they had all the cards in their hands. We can sit back and say we accomplished something," said all-star right fielder Tim Clark, whose first two triples of the season came in the first and second innings Thursday to drive in three runs. He plated J.D. Ramirez and Kevin McMullen with his first triple in the two-run first inning and knocked in McMullen and scored himself in the five-run second.

"A week ago," said Trapper personnel boss Van Schley, "if you said I'd be out here doing this with two games to go, I'd have said you're nuts."

In Schley's opinion, the club became title material when Fred Samson began playing shortstop every day because of the season-ending injury to Tim Rigsby - Samson hit .259 with nine homers and 37 RBI going into Thursday's game - and when it re-acquired 1990 second baseman J.D. Ramirez (.346) to play for the injured Eddie Ortega. "We had solid pitching all the time," Schley added, noting five consistent starters plus some good relievers.