BILLINGS — The Billings Blue Jays finished off a remarkable year with a dominant state tournament performance that they’ll remember for a long time.
With an 11-1 victory over the Lewistown Redbirds in the championship game of the American Legion baseball State A tournament on Sunday at Ryan Sparks Field, the Blue Jays won their second Class A championship. The Blue Jays also captured the State A championship in 1996.
Billings won the East’s South sub-district during the regular season before capturing the Eastern A District championship on Aug. 2 at Pirtz Field.
At the state tournament, the Blue Jays opened with a 9-2 win over Havre on Thursday and downed Belgrade 6-1 in the second round on Friday.
The Blue Jays then defeated the Redbirds 17-5 in the undefeated semifinal on Saturday.
First-year Billings coach Calvin Bjorgum told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com the Blue Jays “were super excited” to win the championship. They also appreciated the chance to start and finish a season with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Holy cow, I don’t think I can put into words how proud I am of these guys,” Bjorgum said in a phone interview. “It’s been a grind all year and to have a season is awesome, but to end it with a state championship is even better.
“They all came together as one at the right time and they got hot at the right time and that’s all they really needed.”
Reagan Walker worked the full six innings in the championship game against Lewistown. He limited the Redbirds to five hits and one earned run, while walking one and fanning five.
Kruz Slevira batted 1 for 2 with a home run, two runs and two RBIs for Billings in the title tilt. Davis Mosier had three RBIs and Lance Schaaf and Gunner Thompson both drove in two. Schaaf scored three times.
Hunter Eliason, Eli Nickisch, Thompson, Schaaf and Mosier all doubled for Billings.
“They were very confident,” Bjorgum said. “Coming off the win at Districts definitely helped them a lot going into the state tournament. We had a lot of momentum going into state coming off that win.”
Schaaf was the tournament MVP and Slevira was the batting champion.
Taylor Smith drove in Luke Clinton for the Redbirds. Nolan Fry had a pair of base hits.
"Walker was really good. We had a chance to get to him early and didn't capitalize,” Lewistown coach Scott Sparks told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com in a text message. “He got better as the game went on and we just couldn't string anything together. Our young arms battled but we didn't give them any run support. They got things rolling at the plate late and put us away."
Earlier Sunday, the Redbirds beat Gallatin Valley 10-1 behind a complete game, seven-inning performance from Brody Jenness to advance to the championship game. Jenness limited the Outlaws to five hits. He struck out two and walked two.
Luke Clinton was 3 for 5, including a double, with two runs and three RBIs for Lewistown. Xander Flick was 3 of 4 with a run and two RBIs. Fry and Smith both added two RBIs.
Lewistown finished the year 50-13 and was the No. 1 seed out of the North District.
“"We had a great year. Won 50 games, a district title, were conference champs, and made it to a state championship,” Sparks texted. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. I think we exceeded expectations all year long with a young team, and are set up to be really strong the next four years."
The Blue Jays (37-10) are a “feeder” team for the Class AA Billings Royals. Most of the players on the Blue Jays are 14, 15 or 16 years old. The team has a few 17-year-old players.
For the Blue Jays to win a state title to pair with the one the program won in 1996 is impressive said Bjorgum.
“It’s very hard to do when you are a feeder program and your kids are young and playing a bunch of teams in the state that are full of juniors and seniors playing together for three or four years,” he said. “It’s definitely something that is a challenge for sure.”
Bjorgum was an assistant coach the last two years with the program before becoming head coach this season. The Blue Jays assistant coaches are Bjorgum’s father, Eric Bjorgum, Dawson Smith and Cam Maciel.
Once the returning and new players gelled as a team and understood the goals of the coaching staff, the Blue Jays were hard to beat.
“They honestly were pretty much unbeatable and fun,” Bjorgum said.
After the game concluded, the celebration was on for the Blue Jays.
“They dogpiled on the field after the win and that was sweet,” said Bjorgum. “They soaked me and gave me a nice ice bath. They gave Reagan (Walker), our starting pitcher, a sweet ice bath and they gave Davis (Mosier) an ice water bath while they were getting interviewed after the game. For them to take pictures with their parents after the game was special.”