BILLINGS — The Bozeman Bucks scored in every inning and shut down the Billings Royals, winning 11-0 in five innings in the second round of the Class AA American Legion baseball state tournament Thursday night at Pirtz Field.
The top-seeded Bucks (46-12) were the tournament's only team to receive a first-round bye, so Thursday's game against the fifth-seeded Royals (16-28) was their first of the tournament. That presented some tricky decisions for coach Garrett Schultz and his staff.
Montana/Alberta Legion Baseball pitch count rules require players to take three days off from pitching after throwing more than 60 pitches in a game. So if Bozeman starter Hunter Williams reached that threshold Thursday, he would have needed to take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. That would eliminate him from the mound at Sunday's title game, if the Bucks get there.
Thursday's game couldn't have played out more perfectly for Bozeman, which scored in every inning and led 7-0 through two. Williams departed with an 8-0 lead in the fourth inning. He allowed two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander threw 59 pitches.
"We were a little nervous about getting him out at that mark," Schultz said. "The bats really came alive and drove the dagger in."
Thursday's game was scheduled to be played at Dehler Park, but a thunderstorm ruined the field's conditions and forced the game to move to Pirtz, which has a artificial turf infield. The tournament was moved from Helena to Billings because Lewis and Clark County health officials had COVID-19 concerns.
"The option to move it to Pirtz was clutch," Schultz said. "Billings is doing a nice job hosting on short notice."
The Bucks outhit the Royals 13-2 and drew four walks. Sage McMinn went 1 for 2 with a solo home run, one free pass, two RBIs and two runs scored, while teammate Logan Pailthorpe went 3 for 3 with three RBIs, Parker McMan went 2 for 3 with two doubles, Preston Fliehman went 2 for 3 with a double, Kelher Murfitt went 1 for 2 with a double and a walk and three runs scored and Ben Hubley went 2 for 3 with a walk and two RBIs.
"We try to come out and be aggressive and intense early," Schultz said. "We play as confident and loose as we can, and we certainly did that tonight."
McMinn will start on the mound in Friday's undefeated semifinal against the Helena Senators, Schultz said. That matchup is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Dehler Park.
"He likes the ball in big moments," Schultz said of McMinn, "and tomorrow’s certainly a big game."
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