BILLINGS — The Billings Royals beat the Helena Senators 4-3 on Sunday to win the AA State Legion Tournament crown. With the win, the Royals will represent the state of Montana at the Northwest Regional Tournament in Gillette, Wyoming.
The Senators and Royals are familiar with one another as they have been the cream of the AA crop over the past two seasons. Last year, Helena beat the Royals in the championship game and the two teams entered this year’s tournament as the top two seeds.
The tournament played out accordingly, with the Royals besting the Senators in a tight 4-3 game during the undefeated semifinal on Friday evening. Because the Royals were undefeated going into Sunday, the Senators had to beat them twice to repeat as champions.
This game began with some quick offense from the Royals. Owen Doucette hit a deep fly ball into the gap between center and left field. While the Helena centerfielder managed to make the grab, Austin Schaaf tagged up all the way from second base and just beat the tag at the plate to put the Royals up, 2-0.
The reigning champions got their first run of the game in the fourth, when Walker Bennett hit a stand up double and brought his teammate home from second. The Royals stopped the damage there when Kruz Slevira made an impressive diving catch in right field to help the Royals keep a one run advantage midway through the fourth.
Slevira then added some help from the dish when he dropped a single into left field and plated Jessen West, extending the lead to 3-1.
The Senators would not go away quietly though. With the bases loaded and no outs, Tyler Tenney brought his teammate home with a sacrifice fly to center field. After the top half of the fifth inning, the game was knotted at three runs apiece.
However, the Royals made their next chance at the plate count as West hit a ground ball over to third and a wild throw gave the Royals what turned out to be the game winning run in another tightly contested 4-3 ballgame.
In the top of the seventh, Lance Schaaf finished the Senators off earning a complete game win and the tournament MVP. It was the first championship for the Royals since 2018.
“Yeah, it was awesome. Obviously, there’s nerves that come with it. And the team had my back today, the defense was great, and we just got the job done,” said Lance Schaaf.
The day was special for the Schaaf family, as Lance’s twin Austin spent the game behind the dish catching for his brother. Austin was recognized as the Batting Champ of the Tournament.
“I mean we lost last year and it just makes it mean that much more this year. It was just earned this year,” said Austin Schaaf.