(Billings Mustangs release)
BILLINGS - The Billings Mustangs (24-14, 39-37) closed the regular season on Saturday with a 5-4 win over the Missoula Osprey (20-18, 40-36) in 11 innings in front of 2,436 at Dehler Park.
Starting pitching highlighted the opening of Saturday's series finale. Both Alberto Gonzalez III and Austin Pope took no-hitters into the fifth inning. Gonzalez tossed a career-high 4 2/3 innings in his first professional start, giving up one run on two hits, not issuing a walk and striking out five.
The Osprey earned the first run of the game on a Kevin Watson solo home run to open the first -- the game's first hit for either side.
That lead extended in the top of the eighth when an error reach, balk and wild pitch allowed Cam Coursey to score.
Trailing 2-0 going to the bottom of the eighth, the Mustangs rattled off three consecutive extra-base hits to open the inning and had hits from five of their first six batters. Ranser Amador and Quin Cotton delivered doubles while Tyler Callihan tripled to right. It was James Free's RBI single to left that scored Cotton and gave the Mustangs their first lead of the night at 3-2 through eight innings of play.
That lead would not stand in the ninth, however, as Missoula bounced back with three consecutive singles to start the inning and score Francis Martinez to force extras. It was the 11th extra-inning game of the season for Billings and their second of this series.
After both sides scored their designated runner in the 10th, Caleb Van Blake was able to throw a scoreless inning in the 11th. An infielder by trade, Van Blake (1-0) threw two innings of relief to avoid taxing the Billings bullpen heading into the playoffs. The right-hander had previously thrown two collegiate outings his freshman year in 2016. He allowed one run on one hit, walking one and striking out two in his two innings of work.
Going to the bottom of the 11th tied at 4-4, Van Blake would also coincidentally be the designated runner at second base to begin the inning representing the winning run. After advancing Van Blake to third on a grounder to short, Cotton chopped an infield single to second to allow Van Blake to score and give the Mustangs the win.
The win secured the best record in the Pioneer League in the second half as the Mustangs finished a game better than the Ogden Raptors in second half record.
The Mustangs now begin their playoff run with a best-of-three Pioneer League North Divisional series against the Idaho Falls Chukars. Game one will be played at Dehler Park in Billings on Sunday, Sept. 8. First pitch is set for 5:15 p.m. MDT.