HELENA — Even after clinching the series with a dramatic 6-4 victory in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, the Senators (11-7, 29-13) weren't satisfied. They completed the four-game weekend sweep of the Billings Royals with a 6-2 win behind a stellar performance from soon-to-be junior Gavin Thennis, who was brought up from the Class A Reps midseason.
Having played a doubleheader against Great Falls on Wednesday, Helena's pitching staff was stretched pretty thin, which made Thennis' outing even gutsier.
"We had some guys that weren't available so we gave the ball to our sophomore," said Senators coach Jon Burnett. "He went out and did a great job and gave us a chance to win. ... Just did a great job keeping them off balance."
Squaring off against Royals ace Nick Eliason, Thennis wasn't intimidated at all.
"My fastball was going pretty good as well as my curveball," Thennis said. "(Mooney) was getting some of those close balls and getting them called strikes, so that's always good. They're a pretty good hitting team, so I knew I'd have to pitch good."
Thennis threw five innings of one-run ball, out-dueling Eliason en route to his third win of the season.
Victor Scott pitched the final two innings in relief to seal the win.
"We know they're capable, but it's nice to see that when we were so deep into our pitching staff," Burnett said.
Chase Nielsen and Ethan Keintz were a collective thorn in the Royals' side all day long. They each had two RBIs in the second game and combined for seven RBIs on the day.
During the first game, the Senators looked dead in the water for 5 1/2 innings.
But that's why you play seven.
Billings was up 2-0 when it went to the bullpen. Royals starter C.J. Bohn dominated Helena through four innings and threw just 40 pitches.
Sometimes just seeing a different pitcher on the mound can make all the difference.
Caden Sell drew a one-out walk and then reliever Noah Aufdengarten plunked Tyler Tenney to put runners at first and second. After Victor Scott fouled out, Trysten Mooney wore a fastball to load the bases with two outs.
The Royals decided the best course of action would be to attempt a back pick to first base, something they had not done all weekend. The throw from Royals catcher Brenden Concepcion went into right field, scoring Sell and Tenney.
And just like that, it was a new ball game.
With the game tied 2-2, pinch hitter Hunter Lindgren took a dose and then the Helena bats woke up.
With the bases loaded once again, Matt Burton dumped a single into left field to give the Senators a 3-2 lead. Next man up, Keintz lined a single to center, scoring two more to give the Senators a 5-2 lead. Nielsen followed with an RBI double and Helena took a 6-2 lead into the seventh.
The Royals did not go quietly, as they tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh. But Eamon Burke wiggled out of trouble to earn the victory in relief and the Senators won 6-4.
"Billings has some good ball players," Burnett said. "They're a tough team. Getting the four (wins) here at home was big for us and it sets us up nicely in the conference standings. We still have some big games down the stretch, but they are more spaced out so hopefully our pitching staff won't be quite as taxed as it was today."
Helena will travel to Missoula for a doubleheader against the Mavs on Wednesday. First pitch is at 5 p.m.