LETHBRIDGE, Alberta -- The goal, from the first day of the season, was to be playing their best baseball at the end of July.
They closed the month with 10 straight victories.
And August is starting the same way.
The Billings Royals will be playing for their third consecutive Class AA American Legion Baseball State Tournament title when they take on the Missoula Mavericks at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Spitz Stadium.
The Royals (48-14), who clinched a spot in the championship with their win on Thursday, posted an easy 9-2 victory over Medicine Hat on Friday afternoon. The Mavericks (50-22) advanced with a 9-6 win over Lethbridge on Friday morning.
Missoula has won three straight after dropping its opener 17-12 to Medicine Hat.
“We need to continue to play sound defense and be opportunistic offensively,” said Royals coach Matt Kimmet. “Missoula is so tough offensively. There isn’t one easy out in the lineup. We have to be sound all the way around and most importantly, have fun. When the boys are loose and relaxed, they are extremely tough to beat.”
Trailing 2-1 entering the fourth inning, the Royals broke the game open with eight runs across the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Ryan Walla jump-started the rally with a three-run double in the fourth. He added a sacrifice fly for his fourth RBI in the fifth inning.
Tanner Leenknecht had three hits, two RBIs and two runs scored for the Royals, while Matt Dillon, Konner Wiechman and Kevin Angland added one RBI each. Wiechman also scored two runs and Joe Zimmer had two hits, including a triple.
“We got some great situational hitting today,” Kimmet said. “A couple of key hit-and-runs really helped. Tanner Leenknecht and Ryan Walla had a nice day at the plate.”
The Royals finished with 11 hits and did not have a strikeout.
Wyatt Summers went the distance for Billings, scattering nine hits. He struck out four and walked none.
“Wyatt Summers was on point today,” said Kimmet. “He did a great job keeping the ball down, mixing his pitches and letting the guys work behind him.”
The Royals have won 11 in a row. They are trying to become the first Class AA team to win three straight state titles since Helena (2001-03).
“I feel like we have great leadership on this club,” Kimmet said. “The guys have really bought in. I am so proud of the strides they have made and how they have come together as a team.
“We only had four guys coming into this season who really saw any time last year so we knew it was going to take some time. Our goal was to be playing our best ball at the end of July and I feel like we are doing just that.”
Missoula reaches title game
The Mavericks rallied from an early 4-0 deficit and trailed 6-5 in the seventh inning.
Jackson King scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball.
Slade Heggen had three RBIs for the Mavericks. T.R. Rheinschmidt had two. King finished with three hits and two runs scored, while Josh Meader scored three runs and had two hits.