BILLINGS — Tournament MVP Jake Rutherford had approximately 25 family members from Billings in attendance.
And, Rutherford’s batterymate with Idaho Falls — catcher Tyler Hilsendeger — had the pleasure of having his grandparents watching the championship performance.
There’s nothing like winning a tournament championship you’ve traveled to from another state with family members who live in the host state proudly watching in the stands.
The Northwest Premier (Idaho) Black team completed a dominant five-game stretch by winning the Goldsmith Gallery Jewelers Baseball Tournament championship game over the Great Falls Chargers 8-0 at Dehler Park Sunday.
The game ended in the bottom of the sixth due to the mercy rule. It was the fourth time Northwest Premier Black ended a game via the mercy rule during the tournament.
The 6-foot, 194-pound Rutherford was a freshman on the Gonzaga baseball team last year. The right-hander pitched the whole game, limiting Great Falls to one hit, a single by Kael Richards in the first inning.
After walking Cam McNamee with one out in the second, Rutherford retired 13 straight batters. Overall, he struck out six, walked one and hit a batter. Rutherford credited his success to “spotting up, and mixing and matching and throwing all my pitches.”
“To be able to shut a team out in the championship is pretty cool,” he said.
The 19-year-old Rutherford, who batted 3 for 4 in the championship game with two RBIs, was also happy that younger brothers Cole Rutherford and Tyson Rutherford were able to share in the championship.
Rutherford explained his dad has family in Billings and having uncles, aunts and cousins in the stands was inspirational for him.
“Billings is a blast,” he said. “I have lots of family here and I got to play with my two younger brothers.”
Hilsendeger’s grandparents, Doug and Donna Dierenfield of Billings, were in the stands cheering on the NWP Black team.
Hilsendeger, who had a single and was hit by a pitch, was born in Billings and his family moved to Spokane, Washington, when he was five.
“It’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t get to play in front of them normally,” said Hilsendeger, noting he had 17 family members including 14 from Billings watching from the Dehler Park stands. “I’m glad I got to get it done for them.
“As soon as our coaches said we were playing in this tournament I looked forward to it and playing in front of my Billings family.”
Another thing Hilsendeger was appreciative of was getting to play at a premier facility. Dehler Park is home to the Pioneer League’s Billings Mustangs.
“It was awesome to play on this field,” he said. “I’m used to playing on high school fields in North Idaho, so this is a step up.”
The Chargers also had an impressive tournament run. Great Falls entered the tourney 5-12 overall, but is now 9-13 after a 4-1 performance.
Great Falls scored an inspirational win late Saturday night at Dehler with a 4-3 victory over last year’s tourney champions, the Colorado Lightning, in 10 innings.
“I’m very proud of our guys. They played their butts off,” third-year coach Tony Forster said. “With last night’s game going as late as it did and 10 innings we were mentally and emotionally drained. Our guys came out and competed and we just played a good team.
“Our kids played hard and they were just better than us today.”
The Chargers’ schedule next takes them to Kalispell for a Wednesday doubleheader and they go to a tournament in Helena beginning on Friday.
“We are actually going to take tomorrow off and let these guys rest up,” Forster said. “They are pretty sore after having had the competition here. … I’m just proud of our guys and the way they came out and competed.”
There were two Northwest Premier teams in the tourney, the Black and the Red.
NWP Black coach Mike Givens said the black team is the 18U team and the Red team is the 16U squad. The clubs are travel teams consisting of players from Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Rathdrum, Idaho, along with Spokane.
With the win, the Black improved to 16-6 on the season.
“For our first true tournament it feels good,” Givens said. “The coaches and I had some questions marks — how our pitching, defense and hitting would do and would they do it consistently?” Givens said. “And this tournament they happened every game.”