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The Scarlets and Royals went down to the wire for the Eastern AA Legion baseball title last summer which was a harbinger of things to come in the state tournament. The Royals went to win the State AA title, outlasting the Scarlets in 14 innings in the championship game.

This year's league battle could be just as interesting, although both Billings teams are currently looking up at Bozeman in the standings. The Bucks own the league lead with a 7-1 record while the Scarlets are 8-3 and the Royals 5-4.

"I look for it to be really tight," Scarlets coach Cory Hansen said. "I think it'll go right up to the end. It's really going to be a dogfight."

Bozeman lost a lot of talent from the 2005 squad that finished third in the league and went 2-2 at state. The Bucks have rebuilt quickly under new coach Mitch Messer.

"Bozeman's young, but pretty scrappy," Hansen said. The Scarlets split with the Bucks last week, losing 6-3 and coming back to take a 5-4 decision.

"I didn't think they would be that good," said Scarlets pitcher Eric Rose of the Bucks. "I think they lost nine guys, but they're tough."

Rose is coming off a one-hit masterpiece against Miles City on Sunday. The lefthander gave up a hit to Brandon Sandau on the first pitch of the game and then retired the Mavericks in order the rest of the way. He also managed to pick Sandoff off first base which meant that he faced the minimum 27 batters in the game.

"I really was feeling pretty good," Rose said. "The fastball was jumping off my fingers. I'd get ahead and could come back with my curveball, slider or changeup."

Rose thought he had a pretty good game going, "but you don't try to think about that."

That performance came on the heels of a fine route-going 6-2 win over Miles City by 16-year-old Alex Bushman on Friday. Bushman fanned 16 and had a shutout until two outs in the ninth. Prior to that, the Scarlets beat Butte 4-2 and 6-2 in a doubleheader.

The Scarlets have arguably the state's deepest pitching staff with Rose, Bushman, Cris Rogers, Kirk Dehler, Tom Danahy and Tyler Tabbert. They've show they can be pretty solid defensively, but need to do that on a consistent basis. The main concern is scoring enough runs.

The Royals can be a factor down the stretch. They'll be stronger once they get Thomas Ackerman, who had offseason surgery, back in the rotation.

Butte (6-6) and Helena (5-7) are also fighting for a one of the fourth state tourney berths from the Eastern Division. The Miners swept the Senators 11-8 and 12-8 on Tuesday.

The Scarlets final two games are against the Royals on July 21 and at Bozeman on July 22. The Scarlets also play at Bozeman on July 4.

The Royals have four games left with the Bucks. They go to Bozeman on July 14-15 and meet the Bucks at Cobb Field on July 18-19.

There won't be many league games over the next two weeks with the exception of league doubleheaders on June 27 (Scarlets at Butte, Helena at Royals) as most teams will be playing in tournaments.

The Fleetwood/UAS tourney begins next Wednesday (June 28) and runs through July 1.

Ed West can be reached at 657-1325 or ewest@billingsgazette.com.

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