BILLINGS — In a tournament derailed by storms, the last team standing was the Lightning.
The American Legion baseball team from Denver scored in all but one inning against the Laurel Dodgers in the Goldsmith Gallery Tournament title game. The Colorado Lightning won 13-4 Sunday afternoon at Dehler Park.
“It was a great tournament,” said Lightning infielder Tyler Dinges. “We bounced back from a loss and won the ‘ship.”
This was the Lightning’s first Goldsmith appearance in about 20 years, according to coach Tyler Shepple, who was a player on that last team. Of the 11 teams in this year’s tournament, only the Colorado Demons (of Golden) and the Shadle Park Shockers (of Spokane, Washington) rivaled the Lightning’s travel distance to Billings — all three are about 550 miles away.
The Lightning got their money’s worth, but a championship didn’t look preordained earlier in the week.
Both of their games on Wednesday ended in 5-5 ties due to time limits — first to the Great Falls Chargers, then to the defending Goldsmith champion Billings Royals. Rain pushed Thursday’s game against the Williston Keybirds to Friday, and the Lightning fell 10-4.
In Saturday’s quarterfinal game against Idaho Falls, they kept their tournament run alive with a 7-0 win. They earned another shutout, 6-0 against the Rapid City Post 320, on Sunday morning to reach the title game.
Against Laurel, the Lightning scored two runs off of Richie Cortese in the top of the first inning and never lost the lead. They went ahead 5-0 in the fourth inning and 6-1 in the fifth.
The Dodgers made it interesting in the bottom half, scoring three runs to cut the deficit to 6-4. In the semifinals against Williston, they trailed 5-2 after three but responded with six runs in the fourth. They trailed 9-8 going into fifth, where they plated four runs to take the lead for good. Laurel won 16-13.
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“It shows that we don’t lay down and quit, that we’ll keep competing,” said Laurel coach Doug Studiner.
Another comeback wasn’t in the cards against the Lightning, who scored one run in the sixth and six in the seventh to pull away.
The Lightning’s Tyler Dinges was named the tournament MVP after going 2 for 5 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored against the Dodgers (22-13). He hit a home run earlier in the week, and teammate Colton Freels hit a two-run homer for the final two runs of the title game.
Connor Polkowske went 3 for 4 with two doubles in Laurel’s loss, and he was 3 for 4 with a double and four RBIs in the win over Williston. Carson West and Keagan Thompson both went 2 for 3 in the title game, while Cortese went 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBIs and Deklan Harper went 5 for 6 and finished a home run shy of the cycle against the Keybirds.
Studiner was pleased with second place considering the grind of the tournament and their showing last year, when the Dodgers fell short of the quarterfinals. They kept their title hopes alive with a nine-inning win over the Royals on Saturday night.
“I threw everybody I had, and we just kind of ran out of gas,” Studiner said. “The kids competed real well. Very proud of them.”
Shepple doesn’t remember exactly how the Lightning performed at the Goldsmith 20 years ago, but he remembers starting strong and fizzling at the finish. This year’s team struck in a different way, and it took some hardware back to Denver.
“We hope to be back,” Shepple said. “This was a fun tournament for us.”
Notes: The Billings Scarlets lost to Williston 6-5 on Saturday in the quarterfinals. ... The Scarlets and Royals will play at 7 p.m. Monday at Dehler. ... The Dodgers will host Wolf Point in a doubleheader Monday.