That’s the total number of players in the 11-12 Majors age division in Billings’ Big Sky Little League. And from those 42 players, 12 were chosen to take on the world.
This afternoon in Williamsport, Pa., the Big Sky All-Stars will do what seemed unthinkable a month ago when they face Huntington Beach, Calif., in the U.S. championship of the Little League World Series.
“What an amazing story,” said Tim Leuthold, the president of the Big Sky Little League. “A lot of people watching these kids on TV probably think it’s all all-star team of the entire city of Billings.
“But these kids were picked from our 42 players. We only had four 11-12-year-old teams this year, and these kids were picked from those four teams.”
The run to Williamsport provided the icing on the cake to a championship summer for the Big Sky League.
The Big Sky Juniors (13-14-year-olds) won the district and state championships and advanced to the West Regional tournament in Irvine, Calif.; the 9-10 Majors won the district and state championships; and the 9-10 girls softball team won the district and state championships. There is no regional-level tournament for the 9-10 division.
“It’s just been a phenomenal year for us,” said Leuthold. “We’re pretty jazzed about winning the district and state championships in four divisions, and obviously the 11-12-year-olds winning the regional and going to Williamsport is beyond anything we could have imagined.
“My son (Calvin) was on the Juniors team, so that regional was a lot of fun. Then when the 11-12-year-olds won the regional, I was able to travel to Williamsport to see their first two games. It was just amazing ... Williamsport is every bit the Little League mecca that you imagine it to be, and then some.”
The history-making 11-12-year-old team, which became the first-ever from Montana to reach the championship of the Northwest Regional and subsequently the first to reach the LLWS, has taken Williamsport by storm.
After narrow wins over Rapid City, S.D. (6-4) and Lafayette, La. (3-1), Big Sky stunned tournament favorite Huntington Beach 1-0 on Wednesday night in the U.S. semifinal, winning on Ben Askelson’s home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning.
Leuthold watched the semifinal game with a raucous crowd of 500-plus Big Sky fans at MSU Billings’ Petro Theatre.
“That was such a great atmosphere,” he said. “To be honest, it was just as much fun as being in Williamsport. When you’re there, you’re with the 50 other people from Montana and the other 10,000 people there are kind of indifferent to the whole thing.
“At MSUB, you’re there with 500 people that are going crazy the whole game. There were kids dancing on the stage and hats being thrown in the air when Ben hit that home run.”
Speaking of hats, the black-and-yellow Northwest hats that have been seen around Billings this week came courtesy of Brian Kurth, father of Big Sky player Pearce Kurth.
Kurth has placed three orders of the hats -- 150 in the first order, 200 in the second order and this week another 500.
“Brian paid for all of those out of his own pocket,” said Leuthold. “He’s giving them away free to kids during the games at MSUB, and he’s selling them for $15 to adults and giving all that money to the Hello Williamsport fund for the parents of the players.
“He’s exactly the kind of person that makes Big Sky such a fun league to be part of. We’ve got a great board and a great bunch of hands-on parents. When something needs to get done, it gets done.”
And this summer, the Big Sky kids got it done on the field.