Collin Maier made eight starts as a freshman at Division III Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., this past spring, going 4-4 with a 3.93 ERA in 52 2/3 innings.
Maier has since returned to the open arms of the Billings Scarlets for his final season of American Legion eligibility, and he dazzled through eight innings Friday night in a 6-0 victory over the Royals at Dehler Park.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-hander struck out five, walked three and allowed three hits in shutting down the Royals in the first conference game of the season for both clubs. Maier seemed to get better in later innings, and didn’t allow a hit to any of the final 13 hitters he faced.
“I just felt like I had some pretty good control for the most part,” Maier said. “I just kind of fell into a rhythm with my mechanics and was able to get ahead of batters.”
Experience matters, and the unassuming Maier, armed with a deceptive fastball, didn’t give the Royals much to work with. Maier let the leadoff runner reach base just once when Drew Atkeison singled to open the fifth.
“We talked about filling the strike zone up and that’s what he did,” Scarlets coach Adam Hust said. “He just kept the ball in play, had a few strikeouts mixed in, and he let our defense work. That’s how you win ball games.”
The Scarlets forged a two-run lead in the first inning against Royals starter John Vogel, but did so without the benefit of a hit. Shelby Zorn and Elijah Sommerville each had RBIs on fielder’s choices in the first.
The key damage was done in the fifth when No. 9 hitter Jake Tallman ripped a two-strike, two-out, two-run single against Royals left-handed reliever Beau Thomas, which upped the Scarlets lead to five runs.
“I got down early. Beau’s a great pitcher,” said Tallman, who went 3 for 4. “I knew he was going to battle the entire at bat. I was just lucky enough to get a pitch I could handle and do something with.”
That gave them enough breathing room to where they didn’t have to worry about losing a lead on one swing -- a la the walkoff grand slam the Royals’ Matt Dillon hit the last time these teams met on May 24.
“The two-out hit was huge. These games stay close and anything can happen,” Hust said. “If you can put a substantial amount of runs up, which I consider five or more, where one swing can’t tie it or win it, you’ve got a pretty good chance. And that hit helped us.”
Though the Royals didn’t muster a whole lot offensively, Kevin Angland made three great defensive stops to smother balls at third base. In particular, he made diving plays on grounders to retire Sommerville in the third and Jalen Garcia in the ninth.
But the Royals’ bats were much quieter than that.
“We just couldn’t string anything together,” said Royals coach Matt Kimmet. “We had a difficult time getting leadoff guys on. It’s tough to produce when you’re not doing that.
“I don’t know if we were as aggressive as we should have been early on. You get behind, and then you get into a situation where you’re only down to so many outs. Do you take the first strike? What do you do? We just kind of got caught up in no man’s land a little bit.”
NOTES: Scarlets P/OF Gage Hinsz was available to play but was not in the lineup on Friday. Hinsz, a right-hander who was projected to be a high pick in the ongoing MLB draft, has yet to be selected by a big league club. Hinsz previously committed to join the baseball program at D-I power Oregon State.