KALISPELL – Jarret Leinwand’s walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning lifted the Billings Royals to a dramatic comeback 6-5 victory over the Lethbridge Elks and the Class AA American Legion state championship Wednesday night.
Billings opened the state tournament with a 6-5 win over the Elks.
It is the Royals first Class AA state title since 2013 and sixth since Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball went to the Class AA and Class A formats in 1987.
Leinwand’s game-winner – a liner that dropped into short left-centerfield – scored Carson Klompien from third base. It was Leinwand’s only base hit of the night.
The Royals advance to the Northwest Region 7 Tournament, August 8-12 in Missoula. They will be joined by the state champions from Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Oregon, along with host team Missoula Mavericks.
The winner of the regional advances to the American Legion World Series, Aug. 8-12 in Shelby, North Carolina.
Lethbridge, chasing its first Class AA championship since 2004, advanced to the title game with a 19-7 win over the Billings Scarlets.
The Elks defeated the Royals 12-7 on Tuesday night.
Billings entered the tournament as the No. 3 seed and the Elks as the sixth seed.
Lethbridge struck early, building a 5-0 lead in the top half of the first inning, highlighted by Torrin Vaselenek’s two-run home run.
The Royals responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the first inning.
Jayden Kay’s solo home run in the fourth inning tied the game for Billings. Kay finished with two hits and two runs scored.
Niklas Nordstog had two hits and an RBI for Billings, while Sam Evenson and Klompien also RBIs.
Dann Blanchard went the distance for Billings, pitching shutout baseball for the final six innings. He scattered eight hits, struck out three and walked one.
Wyatt Tomalty had two hits for Lethbridge, including a double.
Elks 19, Scarlets 7
Vaselenek had five RBIs against the Billings Scarlets in the first game on Wednesday. Zach Goruk had three hits Lethbridge while Blake Braun had two.
The Elks broke the game open with a five-run third inning and added six more in the fifth.
The Scarlets responded with a five-run fourth inning.
“We had a great season,” said Scarlets head coach Adam Hust. “The guys pulled together and had a great second half and outstanding tournament. We just came up a little short.
“We look good heading into next season. A lot of guys got some great experience.”
The Scarlets finished third for 2018.