State AA American Legion Baseball: Another pitching gem for Billings Royals, Bozeman continues offensive tear

BILLINGS — For the second time in as many nights the Billings Royals got an ace-like performance from their starting pitcher.

Chase Hinckley, sporting a jet-black mustache, went six innings, giving up two runs on three hits and striking out six batters, helping Billings to a 5-2 win over the top-seeded Missoula Mavericks on Sunday night in the second round of the State AA American Legion Baseball tournament at Dehler Park in Billings.

“It’s just great to know I have the best defense in the state behind me,” Hinckley said, giving praise to his teammates behind him. “They give me a lot of confidence up there.”

Hinckley didn’t allow a run through the first five frames, which allowed the Royals to slowly build a lead. Aggressive base running pushed two runs across in the top of the second inning. Connor Hunter continued to attack on the base paths, stealing third base in the top of the third inning and scoring on a sacrifice fly. Billings made the advantage 4-0 on an RBI single by Jaeden Jordahl.

Billings took a patient attack at the plate against Missoula pitcher Dane Fraser, getting runners on base and maintaining an aggressive approach throughout. Fraser wound up throwing 106 pitches over the course of 6 2/3 innings and issuing four walks. Fraser also had seven strikeouts.

“We work hard in practice on those kinds of situations,” Benjamin said. “We work hard taking pitches, taking close pitches, things like that.”

The Mavericks had a golden opportunity in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, but Billings catcher Cole Miller made a heads-up play on a chopper just in front of the plate. Miller touched home then turned and fired to nail the runner at first base and end the Missoula threat.

Missoula pushed two runs across in the bottom of the sixth inning on an RBI double to left by Drew Stensrud. Billings’ Nick Eliason came on in relief of Hinckley in the bottom of the seventh and shut the door. After issing a walk, Eliason struck out the next batter. He then picked off the runner at first before inducing a ground ball to end the game.

Six different Royals had base hits in the game. Billings will face Bozeman in Monday’s quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Missoula will face the Billings Scarlets in loser-out action at 4 p.m.

Bozeman 8, Helena 2

Bozeman erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to effectively put away Helena on its way to an 8-2 victory on Sunday in the second round of the State AA American Legion Baseball tournament at Dehler Park in Billings.

The Bucks struck quickly, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first inning on a pair of RBI singles by Sage McMinn and Alton Gyselman. Helena would eventually cut into Bozeman’s lead in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single by Brady Anderson and a sacrifice fly by Zach Spiroff.

But Bozeman’s patience at the plate paid dividends in the fifth inning. After an error, two runs were plated when Helena’s Ethan Keintz issued a bases-loaded walk and then hit the following batter. With the bases still loaded, Ben Hubley hit a run-scoring single to right. Two batters later, Michael Freund hit a two-run single to center and Bozeman’s lead became insurmountable.

“Our guys didn’t chase any pitches. Our guys were comfortable in the box and swung at the pitches we should be swinging at,” Bozeman head coach Garrett Schultz said.

Bozeman used three arms on Sunday combining to allow just six hits and walk two batters. McMinn set the tone early for Bozeman with three shutout innings and a pair of strikeouts.

“(McMinn) is a competitor. He gets up on the mound and challenges hitters,” Schultz said. “I thought (Sunday) he was pretty sharp, but he got better as the game went on. We got him out of there on a pitch count, so if we continue to advance we can bring him back.”

“Pitching to contact I feel like,” McMinn said of what made his brief outing effective. “I’ve got a solid defense behind me. … You’ve got to trust your defense, and (Sunday) was just trusting my defense and pitching to contact.”

Bozeman moves on to Monday’s quarterfinal at 7 p.m. against the Billings Royals. Helena will face Lethbridge in loser-out play at 1 p.m.

For updated scores and pairings click here.

Sunday loser-out

Billings Scarlets 6, Kalispell 4 (8 innings)

The Billings Scarlets stayed alive in loser-out play against the Kalispell Lakers with a win in extra innings. With the game tied at four in the top of the 8th inning, Billings’ Ben Egan ripped a two-run, two-out double to left field to put the Scarlets ahead for good, 6-4. Billings advances to Monday’s loser-out game against Missoula at 4 p.m.

Lethbridge 6, Great Falls 0

Lethbridge again had a solid performance from its starting pitcher, as Nathan Reiter gave up just three hits and issued four walks over six shutout innings. The Elks recorded nine hits and drew seven walks against the Great Falls pitching staff. Lethbridge moves on to Monday’s loser-out game against Helena at 1 p.m.

Alec Bofinger

Alec Bofinger

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