Kusek column: Big games nothing new for Royals, Scarlets

2014-07-30T00:00:00Z Kusek column: Big games nothing new for Royals, Scarlets The Billings Gazette
July 30, 2014 12:00 am

Three in a row, five of the last six and seven of the last nine.

Those are pretty impressive numbers.

Sense a pattern here?

It is how many times a team from Billings has won the Class AA American Legion Baseball state title since 2005.

The Billings Royals are the defending champions, having won titles in 2012 and 2013. The Billings Scarlets last won in 2011, part of three championships during a four-year stretch.

What does it mean?

One, that Billings is home to a lot of high-quality baseball players and coaches.

And two, the Billings teams know how to produce on the big stage.

But unlike other Class AA teams around the state, playing when the stakes are high is nothing new for the Royals and Scarlets.

They play big games all season long.

Against each other.

It’s one thing to win some out-of-state tournament. And it is entirely something different to win against your cross-town rival in front of a big crowd for bragging rights.

“Nobody has this,” Scarlets coach Adam Hust said a couple of weeks ago after the sixth meeting between the two Billings teams. “We have something unique. We have something very special.”

Hust is right.

No other community in Montana boasts two Class AA Legion baseball programs.

That means for at least four times a summer – more if they meet in tournaments – the Royals and Scarlets know they have to bring their “A” games on the field. Anything less is unacceptable.

And after this summer, nobody will be leaving Dehler Park early ever again.

In the first meeting in May, Matt Dillon’s walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Royals a 7-6 victory.

On July 18, Jalen Garcia returned the favor as his curling three-run, walk-off home run down the left-field line in the bottom of the ninth gave the Scarlets a 7-6 win.

But even before Dillon’s and Garcia’s heroics, the games were awash in clutch performances to set up the game-winning homers.

It would be safe to say those were two of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the rivalry. And both came in the same season.

The Class AA state tournament started Tuesday in Lethbridge.

Don’t be surprised to see a team from Billings in the championship game.

Both have been there.

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