SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The Big Sky All-Stars of Billings are one win away from going to Williamsport. Again.
Big Sky pulled off a role reversal with some big plays — and some shutout pitching from Jack Leuthold — in Thursday’s 3-0 victory over Lake Oswego, Ore., in the semifinals of the Little League Northwest Regional tournament.
The result reversed Big Sky’s 8-2 setback to Lake Oswego on Wednesday in the final pool-play game for both teams. Thursday’s win sends Big Sky into Saturday’s 3 p.m. championship game against Sammamish, Wash., which scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth Thursday night to stun Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 5-4.
Saturday’s winner advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., which Big Sky did in 2011 to become Montana’s first-ever World Series team.
Leuthold struck out four batters, yielding three hits while not walking anyone and throwing just 67 pitches in the six-inning complete game. Leuthold didn’t do the bulk of the pitching in the district and state tournaments, but Big Sky coach Rob Schiano was impressed by Leuthold’s pitching effort against Alaska earlier in the tournament.
“(Leuthold) pitched five and two-thirds innings without walking anybody,” said Schiano, who told Leuthold he would start in the morning before the game. “He hit all of his spots.”
Schiano said he called the pitches to specific spots. He said his coaching staff had seen earlier games, and came up with a plan how to pitch to each hitter.
“I was pretty excited when I heard I would start,” said Leuthold. “It’s like a dream.”
Big Sky touched Lake Oswego starter Jackson Laurent for five singles in the top of the first, scoring the only three runs of the contest. Shortstop Connor Polkowske, second baseman Hayden Gall, and center fielder Nolan Askelson all singled, and Leuthold drove in a run on a fielder’s choice.
“The pitcher hung a curve ball and I hit it pretty hard,” said Gall.
Catcher Jayden Kay followed with a single, and first baseman Karsten Binstock drove in the third run with a single.
Big Sky only advanced one runner to third after the first inning, but Leuthold’s pitching and some good defensive plays held Lake Oswego in check.
Polkowske made an impressive play at shortstop in the first inning after a ball deflected off Leuthold’s glove. Lake Oswego’s biggest threat came in the fourth inning when two batters singled to start the fourth inning, and Laurent hit a hard shot to Gall, who started a double play.
“I thought we could turn two,” said Gall. “Connor (Polkowske) has a really strong arm.”
Leuthold said the defense is an example of the team unity.
“I know I can count on everybody on my team,” Leuthold said. “I know all of these guys and have played together since we were in tee ball.”