KALISPELL — The Battle of Billings came down to a final pitch.
The reward for the Royals in their 5-4 win over the rivals Scarlets was a spot in the championship game of the American Legion Class AA state tournament.
Pitcher Brooks Zimmer threw a compete game for the Royals, and was pushed to his limit — literally. The bases were loaded and he reached his day's pitch limit on his final batter.
It was get the out and win, or leave the game with a tie or behind.
"We were going to ride Brooks until the very end," coach Bryan Benjamin said. "He's one of our three aces. I would go with him until his pitch count is up. He pitched a great game."
The Royals move into a 7 p.m. game Tuesday against Lethbridge. Win or lose, they get a game Wednesday since they are undefeated in the tournament.
"It's a big relief to get by these guys," Benjamin said of the Scarlets. "They are always tough with the rivalry. They are a tough team. Any team can win any game."
The Scarlets face Kalispell at 4 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game. Lethbridge must beat the Royals or go home. If the Elks win, they get the winner of the Scarlets-Kalispell game on Wednesday before the Royals have to play.
"We are in the championship now," Benjamin said. "We still need to go out and win that one for sure. That's a game we have to win so when we are in the championship, the team has to beat us twice."
A three-run home run by Jarret Leinwand in the first inning set the tone for the Royals and they added two more runs in the second inning that gave them enough of a lead to hold on.
Jayden Kay had a two-hit day, while Carson Klompein and Kay scored two runs each.
"That's huge," Benjamin said of the home run. "We talked about that all day, about starting out early and jumping on them early. In two games with them we didn't get any runs early, it's all been late. Jump on them early and we did today. We just didn't score runs at the end of the game."
Ben Tallman had two hits and two runs scored for the Scarlets, while Cole DeVries hit a solo shot.
Kalispell 3, Missoula 2
The Kalispell Lakers literally squeezed out their latest win in the American Legion Class AA state tournament.
They won the elimination game over the Missoula Mavericks at Griffin Field when Samuel Elliott laid down a squeeze bunt to score Ryan Symmes in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"We've been struggling offensively at the plate, so we were putting too much pressure on ourselves instead of just relaxing and letting the bat fly and trusting your routine," Lakers coach Ryan Malmin said. "We persevered through it and our pitchers did a good job of minimizing things. We played all right and did enough to pull out the win."
Missoula tied the game in the top of the seventh inning when Tradd Richardson singled in Parker Stevens, who just doubled. Both hits came with two outs.
Symmes was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the seventh. A sacrifice bunt by Logan Siblerud moved him to second and Symmes stole third base to set up the game-winner
"It's fortunate to get the leadoff guy on and were able to bunt him over," Malmin said. "Then Ryan took over. He's one of our best base runners, so he had a good jump and went for it. Then we got that 2-1 count and we felt (the pitcher) had to come in the strike zone. Sam is a great bunter for us and Ryan got a great jump."
Missoula coach Brent Hathaway continues to be disappointed with the inconsistency of his team. The No. 5 seed worked its way deep into the tournament, but he felt they could have gone deeper.
"When you look at how the thing went down, we gave them three runs," Hathaway said. "And you can't do that. The pitching was pretty tough. I thought the kids did a nice job battling back in that seventh inning to tie it up. Everybody squared the ball up.
"Then we turn around and put the guy on for free. We drill him. You just can't consistently win ballgames when you are so undisciplined with the baseball. It's a tough lesson to learn when you end your state season the way we did today. Hopefully, the kids learn from it and won't make those same mistakes again."
The Mavericks, however, have at least one more weekend of baseball. The regional tournament is in Missoula on Aug. 8-12. As the host team, they are in the eight-team tournament with the seven northwest state champions.
"It's the same goals all the time," Hathaway said of moving on. "We want to play good baseball and want to play the game it was meant to be played."
The Lakers were thrilled to bounce back from Sunday's loss to the Royals. They hope this win motivates them to the end.
"It was good after last night to come out and get a close one, and be able to answer the call when they tied it up in the seventh inning," Malmin said.
Lethbridge 10, Great Falls 2
The Lethbridge Elks won the battle of attrition in a victory over the Great Falls Chargers on Day 3 of the American Legion Class AA state tournament.
Lethbridge used a 10-hit offense to overcome the feisty Chargers in an elimination game.
"Late in the tournament, you need quality at-bats," Elks coach Scott Oikawa said. "The pitching staffs get deeper and deeper, so you have to be ready to hit and play defense."
Kyle Bloor and Lukas Ankermann had two hits each, while Ty Penner and Levi Abbott drove in two runs each. Penner's RBIs came on a two-run home run.
Great Falls could manage only three hits and Kael Richards drove in both runs. They drew eight walks and had five hit batters. That resulted in 11 runners left on base.
"We got out of big jams there," Oikawa said. "Credit to Great Falls. They work hard and had some opportunities."
The Elks also needed three pitchers due to starter Thomas Little pulling himself out of the game in the second inning due to a potential arm injury. Bloor came in on short notice and went three innings.
"He had an arm issue there," Oikawa said. "Hopefully, it's not too serious. It's state tournament time, the next guy in the rotation needs to step up. You just hope by the end you have enough."