BILLINGS — Zach Spiroff knew as soon as the ball left his bat.
He confirmed it when rounding first base.
Spiroff’s triple to the left-center field wall lifted the Helena Senators to a 3-2 win over the higher-seeded Kalispell Lakers in the first game of the Class AA American Legion Baseball State Tournament Saturday at Dehler Park.
Helena entered the tournament as the No. 6 seed, while Kalispell was seeded third. The Senators advance to the 4 p.m., winner’s bracket game on Sunday, while the Lakers fall to loser-out play at 10 a.m.
In the second game, the Missoula Mavericks scored early and often, scoring seven runs in the first inning en route to a 9-1 win over Great Falls.
Missoula will play at 7 p.m. on Sunday, while Great Falls plays at 1 p.m.
Spiroff’s game-winning hit broke a 2-2 tie with both team scoring their runs in the third inning. His triple scored teammate Tyler Tenney, who had singled in the previous at-bat.
“That situation, I was just trying to put the ball in play. Trying to make something happen,” Spiroff said. “Luckily, he gave me a fastball and I made solid contact.
“Off the bat, it felt pretty good. Rounding first base, I saw it (the ball) still rolling around and I knew I had at least two … and nobody was covering third.”
Spiroff missed Helena’s three regular-season games against Kalispell. He was playing cornerback for the West team in the East-West Shrine football game. The leftfielder finished with two hits on Saturday.
Cy Miller pitched the first 5 and one-third innings for the Senators, striking out six. “Props to Cy for giving us the opportunity to win the game,” Spiroff said. “And to Ethan for finishing.”
Ethan Keintz went the last one and two-thirds. Both Miller and Keintz worked their way out of jams. Kalispell had two on and one out against Keintz in the bottom of the seventh. But Keintz coaxed two pop-ups, including one to first base after running the count to 3-0 on the Lakers’ Jack Corriveau.
“They made big pitches in big situations,” said Helena head coach Jon Burnett. “We’ve been playing pretty solid baseball in the month of July. We’re definitely playing our best baseball now.”
Missoula 9, Great Falls 1
The top-seeded Mavericks used a triple, double, four singles and three walks in the first inning. All seven runs came after two outs.
That was more than enough for starting pitcher Dylan Chalmers. Mixing three primary pitches — fast ball, slider and changeup — he went 6 and one-third innings. Chalmers scattered three hits and struck out six. He threw only 75 pitches, making him available again later in the tournament. If Chalmers had gone the limit of 105 pitches, he would need to rest another four days.
“I tried to get ahead in the count with the fast ball which let me come back and use the slider and changeup,” he said.
“For me, it (a big lead) doesn’t change anything. What it does for our team is create more leverage.”
The Mavericks added two more in the fourth — again after two outs — using three hit batsmen, an error and a fielder’s choice. Missoula did not manage another hit after the first inning.
But Chalmers did not let up.
“It’s happened to us before,” he said of teams putting together a comeback. “You’ve got to keep after teams. You have to keep pressure on them. Any team can come back on anybody. The game is not over until it’s done.”
Dane Fraser had two RBIs for the Mavericks, while Tradd Richardson and Bridger Johnson each had two hits. Johnson’s long triple to center field ignited the seven-run rally in the first.
Derick Spring had an RBI single for the Chargers, while Tyler Marr had a double in the seventh inning.