BILLINGS — With spring starting a month ago and the Major League Baseball season begun, it’s time for the local American Legion baseball season to begin.
The defending State AA champion Billings Royals, Billings Scarlets and Class A Laurel Dodgers all feel they have teams capable of competing for hardware come tournament time.
The Royals, after being rained out last weekend in Helena, are set to begin their season on Sunday against the Dodgers at Thomson Park with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m.
The Scarlets first scheduled games of the season were also rained out last weekend as the team was slated to play games against the Great Falls Chargers and Vauxhall Academy (Canada) in Great Falls. The Scarlets, who finished third at the State AA tourney last year, will start the season on May 4 in a nonconference twin bill at the Great Falls Chargers.
Laurel, one of the final four teams playing in the State A tourney last year, opened its season on Saturday by splitting with the Cody, Wyoming, Cubs at Thomson Park.
The Royals are the host team for the State AA tournament July 27-31 at Dehler Park.
“We’re very excited about that,” fourth-year Royals coach Bryan Benjamin said. “That hopefully gives us a little bit of an advantage, too, when we get to the state tournament. It’s nice to have your own locker room and sleep in your own bed and eat at the places you know.”
The Eastern A District tournament will be in Laurel July 18-22. The Class A state tourney is in Florence July 27-31.
Dodgers sixth-year skipper Doug Studiner said the last time the club hosted districts was before he was coach.
“We are excited to have it in Laurel and excited to not have to travel for one and excited to bring people here,” he said. “We get great community support from our town and people around town and are excited we get to host the district tournament. It will be a lot of fun.”
The annual 11-team Goldsmith Gallery Tournament is June 19-23 with games being played at Dehler Park, Pirtz Field and Thomson Park.
“You get tournament play and good games and you get to stay home and play on your home field in front of family and friends,” Scarlets 13th-year coach Adam Hust said. “It is always nice to stay home and play a good slate of games.”
The Royals finished 48-17 last year and return six players in Dann Blanchard, P/3B; Cole Miller, C/3B/1B; Ethan Opp, CF/LF; Michael Morehead, CF; Tucker Smith, P/LF and Connor Hunter, SS/P.
Brenden Concepcion (C/3B) and Jaeden Jordahl (2B/SS) are also expected to be key players. The Royals, who were one of the final four teams at the Northwest Regional, graduated 10 players from last year’s team. Benjamin said the club “could go through a learning curve at the beginning of the year,” but he expects the Royals to jell and finish strong.
“It’s a hard-working group,” he said. “The young guys coming up from the Blue Jays are a real good group and by July we’ll be where we need to be.”
The Scarlets scrimmaged against themselves and the Royals this week and “we are excited to get going. The boys are champing at the bit to play some baseball,” Hust said.
Two Scarlets, Koby Croft (SS/P) and Michael Zaske (P/OF), have signed to play baseball at Montana State Billings Hust said.
Overall, the Scarlets return 10 players. Andy Larsen (1B/P), Cory Brownson (C/OF), Jarron Wilcox (C/INF/P), Michael Horrell (P/OF), Aaron Seward (P/INF), Christian Michaelson (OF), Logan Meyer (OF) and Kolby Kimmet (P/INF) also return.
“We are excited for this group and think there is a lot of good things they bring to the table,” Hust said.
Laurel finished 47-17 last year and 21-3 in the conference, placing first at the district tourney. Overall, Laurel has played at the state tourney 12 of the last 13 years.
Deklan Harper (CF/P), Cash Golden (SS/P), Carson West (2B/P) and Keagan Campbell (C/utility) are some of the Dodgers top players. Golden and West were both all-state selections last year and Harper was an all-conference pick.
Connor Polkowske (INF/P), a member of the Billings Royals last year, moved to Laurel and is on the Dodgers this season.
Richie Cortese (3B/1B/P) is the fourth Cortese brother to come through the Dodgers program. Colton Ludwig (1B/P) is another key player.
Three Dodgers are going to play college baseball Studiner said. West will play for Clackamas Community College (Oregon), Harper at Miles Community College and Polkowske at Northern State (South Dakota).
“Our goal is to win the East and go to the state tournament and compete for the state title,” Studiner said. “We have a good core of returners coming back. All the kids coming back have gotten playing time and know how to compete and win. They also know what it’s like to come close and not win it all, so they are hungry.”