SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The boys from Billings never thought they’d be here. Now that they’ve reached the Little League World Series, however, the Big Sky All-Stars are making the most of it.
Patrick Zimmer tossed five shutout innings and Ben Askelson hit a two-out, two-run single Sunday in a 3-1 victory over Lafayette, La., in a U.S. quarterfinal game.
It’s not a bad start for the first team from Montana to ever qualify for youth baseball’s biggest tournament.
"We were just kind of hoping to make it" to the regional tournament, said Ian Leatherberry, 12, who added an insurance run in the sixth with a two-out RBI double. "That was our ultimate goal, and then we got even farther."
School begins in Billings on Wednesday, which happens to be the day Billings will face Huntington Beach, Calif., in the U.S. undefeated semifinal game (6 p.m. Mountain time, ESPN). And if all goes right, the Big Sky players could miss even more classes if they make it all the way to next Sunday's championship game.
Are the players disappointed they won't be in school? Zimmer, Askelson, Leatherberry and closer Sean Jones immediately responded in unison with an emphatic "No!"
And to think, the Big Sky league players from Billings once thought they might have trouble just making it through their regional tournament.
But effective pitching, clutch hitting and timely defense have carried them through to make them the most successful Little League team ever out of Montana. Even coach Gene Carlson said he's a little surprised his team has started 2-0 at the World Series.
"But once we got here, we knew we belonged," Carlson said before turning to his players. "They can play with anybody."
Zimmer struck out four before Jones came on to pitch the sixth and immediately got into trouble.
Louisiana's Nick Fruge reached on a three-base error, then scored on a wild pitch. Later Cain Castille, who finished 3 for 3, doubled with two outs to put the tying run at the plate, but Jones got a fielder's choice -- a dandy of a play by Zimmer -- to end the game.
For the final out, Zimmer -- playing third base -- stuck his chest in front of a hard-hit grounder to knock it down. Then rather than throw to first base, Zimmer saw Castille coming out of the corner of his eye and caught him in a rundown to end the game.
"We hit the ball, not as well as we wanted us to, but we hit at people, too," Louisiana coach Leland Padgett said. "That's baseball, there's nothing you can do about that."
Louisiana lost for the first time in tournament play, though Padgett was not too upset about it.
"The most important thing if you're 12 years old is learning how to lose, not win. Winning is easy," the skipper said. "It's how you lose that makes the character of a man, and that's what we're trying to teach these kids, though we're trying to teach a little baseball, too."
The winner of Wednesday's Billings-Huntington Beach game will advance to the U.S. championship on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Wednesday's loser will play a semifinal/loser-out game at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Patrick Zimmer tossed five shutout innings and Ben Askelson hit a two-out, two-run double to lift the Billings Big Sky All-Stars to 3-1 win Sunday over Lafayette, La., at the Little League World Series.
The first team from Montana to qualify for the World Series extended its postseason winning streak to six behind an effective outing by the 13-year-old Zimmer, who struck out four.
Louisiana scored in the sixth off reliever Sean Jones after Nick Fruge reached on a three-base error and scored on a wild pitch, then put the tying run at the plate with two outs. But Jones got a fielder's choice to end the game.
Zimmer also scored on Askelson's clutch double down the left-field line in the third off starter Haden Erbe, who struck out nine for Louisiana.
The Billings Big Sky All-Stars beat Lafayette, La., 3-1, on Sunday to move into the semifinals of the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.
Ben Askelson's two-run double in the third inning drove home Patrick Zimmer and Connor Kieckbusch, giving Billings a 2-0 lead. Zimmer had singled to start the inning and Kieckbusch had walked, setting the stage for Askelson's sharp double down the left field line.
Ian Leatherberry singled in Gabe Sulser from second base to push the lead to 3-0 in the top of the sixth. Sulser was a pinch runner for Pearce Kurth, who had walked with two outs. Brock MacDonald's single moved Sulser to second. MacDonald was thrown out at the plate trying to score on Leatherberry's hit.
Patrick Zimmer pitched the first five innings. Sean Jones came in to pitch the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, an error on a long fly ball to right field allowed Louisiana to put a runner on third, and he scored on a passed ball. With two outs, Zimmer snagged a ground ball at third base and tagged out a runner to end the game.
Billings, which defeated Rapid City, S.D., on Thursday in the tournament opener, moves into the semifinals on Wednesday against the winner of the game between Huntington Beach, Calif., and LaGrange Ky. The 6 p.m. semifinal game will be broadcast on ESPN.