LETHBRIDGE, Alberta -- The Billings Royals have taken a big step toward a third consecutive Legion baseball championship.
Continuing their late-season surge, the Royals blasted the crosstown rival Billings Scarlets 14-2 in the second round of the State AA tournament on Wednesday at Spitz Stadium. The game was called in the seventh inning due to the mercy rule.
The victory sends the Royals (46-14) into Thursday’s undefeated semifinal game at 7 p.m., where they’ll face tournament host Lethbridge, which beat Medicine Hat 15-8 in the other winner's bracket contest.
The Scarlets (36-20-1) fell into a loser-out game at 1 p.m. against Missoula.
The Royals, state champions in 2012 and 2013, are trying to become the first team to win three straight Class AA titles since Helena did it from 2001-03.
"I thought the boys came into the game with a great mindset," first-year Royals coach Matt Kimmet said. "They competed at the plate early and we were able to string some hits together and got a couple big hits at just the right time."
The Royals, with the benefit of three Scarlets errors, erupted for seven runs in the second inning and scored six more in the third to build an insurmountable lead. Left-handed starter Beau Thomas earned the victory, scattering 11 hits through six innings.
Kevin Angland went 2 for 5 with four RBIs, while Tanner Leenknecht had three hits, scored twice and drove in two runs. Ryan Walla also had three hits and three RBIs.
"Ryan Walla and Kevin Angland had a great day at the plate," Kimmet said. "Getting those contributions out of our No. 5 and 6 hitters was huge. Beau Thomas had a great game on the hill. He let his defense work behind him all game. Defensively we were very sound. I have told the boys from Day 1 that if they play defense they will win every game."
The Royals have now won nine in a row.
Shelby Zorn had three hits for the Scarlets, while Gordy Sveinson and Jackson Cobb each had two. Sveinson, the starting pitcher, took the loss despite being charged with only one earned run.
"We knew it was going to be a battle with them," Kimmet said. "Gordy is a great pitcher and they are so tough offensively. We tried our best to get as many runs early as we could as we know anything can happen at the state tournament and we wanted to save some arms."
Dodgers move on
The Laurel Dodgers' hopes for another State A title are alive and well following a 4-3 victory over Mission Valley on Wednesday in Lewistown.
Starter Anthony Panella shut down Mission Valley, allowing one run through the first eight innings. But the Mariners scored twice in the ninth to put some pressure on the Dodgers, highlighted by Zeke Webster-Yaqui's RBI single.
But Mitch Kaufman came on in relief to get the final out and earn the save.
Laurel scored two big insurance runs in the eighth. Daniel Stamper drove in one of them with an RBI double. Stamper drove in two runs in all.
Dawson Cortese had two hits, both doubles, and Karson Kukes finished 3 for 4 for the Dodgers.
Laurel (47-15) advanced to the undefeated semifinal round, where they'll take on the Glacier Twins on Thursday.