Putting the leadoff hitter on base in any inning goes a long way to producing runs. Doing it eight times during the course of a 14-inning doubleheader goes even further toward producing victories.
The Royals got two wins against Missoula on Saturday due to their propensity for getting on base. Quality pitching and near error-free defense, of course, contributed to their cause. Billings won the first game 7-1 and took the second game 4-2.
The leadoff batter reached base three times in the opener and five times in a row in the second contest, and that gave the Royals ample chances to gain an advantage, especially with the way starting pitchers Konner Wiechman and John Vogel performed.
Bryan Mitchell, who has been at the top of the Royals’ batting order early in the season, has a pretty stringent philosophy when it comes to hitting first.
“Put the ball in play,” Mitchell said. “Make solid contact. If (the ball) is going to hit you, let it hit you. Just get on base any way you can.”
But that applied to just about every Royals hitter throughout the doubleheader. And while coach Matt Kimmet said his team could have -- and should have -- produced more runs in those situations, it sufficed.
Wiechman walked to lead off the second inning of the first game, and the Royals went on to score two runs. They got two more in the fifth when Joe Zimmer drew a leadoff walk, and Baylee Slevira also earned a free pass to lead off the seventh in which they scored two more.
Mitchell’s leadoff single to open the second game was a harbinger of things to come. In the following innings, Tanner Leenknecht, Zimmer, Pete Lind all had first at-bat hits. The Royals scored three times in the fourth as Zimmer and Mitchell drove in runs.
“The leadoff batter is always the most important,” Mitchell said. “ Once he gets on, it kind of brings down the defensive morale. Our whole lineup can hit, so the leadoff hitter is very important to get on.”
All of that set the table for Wiechman and Vogel on the mound. The opener served as Wiechman’s first start of the season, and he didn’t allow a run in five innings of work. Vogel went the full seven innings in the second game, working around eight hits. He allowed two runs in the third off the bats of Jesson Preston and Josh Meader.
“I thought Konner had a great outing,” said Kimmet, whose team improved to 5-2. “We really limited his pitch count, but he looked sharp. One thing about Konner is he’s very intelligent on the mound. He trusts all of his pitches, and he’ll throw them in any spot.”
Vogel, meanwhile, “got into a little bit of trouble when he fell behind and he had to groove some pitches in there. But he does a good job working with good tempo and mixing his pitches. His curveball, when it’s sharp, is tough. And he can reach back and throw his fastball with a little velocity.”
Longtime Missoula coach Brent Hathaway said his team was without five players, including its two Division I signees Slade Heggen and Shane Olson. Heggen, a catcher, has signed to play at Oregon, while Olson, a first baseman and outfielder, has signed with Washington.
Heggen and Olson, and teammate Matt McHugh, graduated from Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula on Saturday.
The Royals and Mavs will play another doubleheader Sunday at Dehler Park. Game times are set for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.