Missoula, MT.- The final regular season series of 2021 began Wednesday with the Missoula PaddleHeads squaring off with the Billings Mustangs. The objective for Billings going into the series was simple. The Mustangs need to win a pair of games to clinch the second half pennant in the Northern Division.
Missoula, MT.- The final regular season series of 2021 began Wednesday with the Missoula PaddleHeads squaring off with the Billings Mustangs. The objective for Billings going into the series was simple. The Mustangs need to win a pair of games to clinch the second half pennant in the Northern Division. If they fail to do so, there season will come to an end. With so much on the line when looking at the postseason, it was fitting that action from the Garden City would be deadlocked after 9 innings in regulation.
The game was tied at 6 after 9 innings of play which set up a ‘knock out’ round to decide the winner. The scenario has not been kind to Missoula in the past against Billings having lost 2 other ‘knock outs’ to the Mustangs this season. A winner would not be crowned in round 1 as Christian Sepulveda of Billings, and Jayson Newman of Missoula would both homer twice. That brought Anthony Amicangelo, and Dean Nevarez to the plate in round two. After Amicangelo homered once for Billings, Nevarez would manage to pull two long-balls down the left field line to give the PaddleHeads the win in the second round.
The loss for Billings puts the Mustangs in a do-or-die scenario where they will now need to win their final two regular season games to have a chance at the playoffs. Otherwise, it will be the Idaho Falls Chukars who will advance.
The action in regulation would be tightly contested with most of the offense coming in bunches. Missoula would strike first in the second as Zach Almond would take on right field on a solo homer to make the score 1-0. It put Almond at 26 home runs on the year which also leads the Pioneer League. Almond would finish the game 1-for-3.
After tying the game in the third, the Mustangs would take their first lead of the night behind a 4-run rally in the fifth making the score 5-1. Jalen Garcia would bring home the first run on a sacrifice fly which sent Christian Sepulveda into the box with 2-outs. On a 2-strike delivery, Sepulveda would get a pitch he could handle lacing a double into left center to score a pair. He would score one batter later when Anthony Amicangelo sent one into the right center field gap. That would be the final time Billings would be on the board until the ninth.
After a dormant stretch from the third through the sixth, Missoula’s offense would come to life in the seventh with a four-run rally of their own to knot the score up at 5 runs apiece. Dean Nevarez would set the tone in the inning hitting a solo homer to lead off the frame to cut the lead to 5-2. Nevarez would prove to be a crucial factor in the knockout, and in regulation finishing 2-for-2 with a double, and home run.
Missoula would then find a way to take the lead in the bottom of the next inning. Brandon Riley would produce a clutch hit with 2-outs hitting a ground ball through the middle to give the PaddleHeads a 6-5 advantage. The lead would not last long though as the Mustangs would have one more trick up their sleeve.
Sepulveda would find a way to do more damage with two strikes in the top of the ninth hitting a single to left to erase the one run deficit. It also set up Billings to take the lead back in the inning with a runner in scoring position with only 1 out. Mark Simon would stand tall in the situation however striking out a pair to end the inning with no more damage done. Sepulveda finished 2-for-5 with 2 driven-in.
The Mustangs (44-50) (26-20) must now win each of the final two games of the regular season opposite the PaddleHeads (63-31) (28-18) to secure a playoff bid. Missoula can claim the second half pennant in the Northern Division with a win in game 2 of the series Thursday night in Missoula. Catch all the action on ESPN Missoula 102.9 F.M. and SWX Montana.
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