BILLINGS — Things looked bleak for the Billings Royals Friday afternoon at Dehler Park.
But it’s funny how two consecutive hit batters can change the momentum and start what turned out to be a game-winning rally.
Behind five runs in the sixth inning, the Royals downed the Great Falls Chargers 5-4 in a loser-out game at Dehler Park to advance to Day 4 of the State AA American Legion baseball tournament on Saturday.
“We saved them all for one inning,” said Royals coach David Swecker with a smile.
“They just didn’t give up. Our fans were great and our parents did a good job cheering us on,” Swecker added. “Home-field advantage with the fans was huge today.”
The Chargers had taken charge of the game, building a 3-0 lead after the top of the sixth, before the Royals’ offense came alive. Great Falls starting pitcher Hunter Houck had limited Billings to three hits entering the sixth inning.
Houck, who pitched a determined game, hit the first two batters during the sixth inning, Nick Eliason and Brenden Concepcion, with a pitch. After a visit to the mound by the coaching staff, Eliason stole third base and was driven in by what Swecker labeled as a “huge” double by Aiden Montez and suddenly the Royals were on the board, trailing 3-1.
The Chargers brought in reliever Fox Weymouth to face Brady Uhren, who hit a two-run single to knot the score at 3-3. Two of the next three batters were retired, with Michael Ohlin’s single sandwiched in between, when Jaeden Jordahl hit a two-run single to give the Royals a 5-3 advantage.
Overall, the Royals sent 10 batters to the plate in the frame and faced three Chargers’ pitchers as Josh Banderob was also summoned and recorded the final out.
“None of the seniors wanted to lose this game,” said Jordahl. “We just wanted to advance.
“I just wanted to do my job, hit the ball to the right side of the field to score a run,” Jordahl explained of his ground ball, game-winning RBI single past the first baseman.
With the Scarlets' 8-6 win over the Kalispell Lakers in the other loser-out game Friday and Bozeman's 8-6 win over Helena, the Royals will play the Senators Saturday at 4 p.m. The Scarlets will play the defending state champion Bucks at 7 p.m.
Eli McCoy, who pitched the complete game in the Royals' victory over the Scarlets on Senior Night to end the regular season, turned in another gem for the Royals. McCoy worked all seven innings and allowed six hits and four runs (two earned). He walked four and struck out two.
“Coming out here you have to give it all you’ve got. There is no turning back,” McCoy said. “Everything you’ve done in the season doesn’t matter.”
McCoy said the Royals need to come out aggressive on Saturday.
“We have to get our offense going,” he said. “If we score first, I think we have a great chance.”
For the Chargers, Houck pitched five innings. Kael Richards had a two-run double in the third for Great Falls and Tyler Marr drove in the team’s runs in the fifth and seventh.
“You couldn’t ask for a better performance out of him,” Chargers coach Tony Forster said of Houck. “He worked his butt off all year. It was good to see him compete. He was pretty much perfect through five.
“That’s a pretty good team there and we held them in check for five and opened the door in the sixth and they took over the momentum. But that’s baseball … give them credit.”
BASEPATHS: Forster said the Chargers will miss Derek Spring, who played his last baseball game. Spring also played for Dakota College at Bottineau (North Dakota), but will not return to the team and is retiring as “his body is not recovering like it should.” Spring has been in the Great Falls program for six years. “He’ll be a hard one to lose next year,” said Forster.
Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL
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