Pioneer League championship: Ogden Raptors face red-hot Billings in first title bid since 2017
The Ogden Raptors held back the Rocky Mountain Vibes 3-1 in one of the season’s best games in the Pioneer Baseball League on Thursday night to win the South Division title and advance to the league championship series.
Brock Gilliam allowed one hit through his first six innings, backed up by a great defense.
“That’s what a No. 1 starter looks like in the playoffs,” Raptors manager Kash Beauchamp said.
The storylines were plentiful, with one of Ogden’s best hitters in Nick Ultsch accepting a spot on the bench in favor of the defensively elite outfield of Josh Broughton, Reese Alexiades and Cam Phelts. But Ultsch delivered in the last two games as a pinch-hitter; in Game 3 with the bases loaded, he wore a full-count pitch in his side after a battle of an at-bat to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning.
“I told him he might not get the most at-bats tonight, but he might get the most important one. And he did,” Beauchamp said. “Great team player tonight.”
The North Division series played out differently in its details but was as dramatic in its Game 3: Missoula scored in the ninth to tie it while simultaneously running themselves into outs that otherwise would have won the game. Billings and Missoula each scored in the 10th, Billings again in the 12th and a potential Missoula tying run in Dondrei Hubbard was thrown out at the plate in a call much protested by the PaddleHeads.
So the Billings Mustangs prevailed 8-7 in 12 innings, making them 19-3 in their last 22 games while eliminating Missoula (66-29 this season).
The Mustangs come to Ogden for Game 1 of the championship series at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Lindquist Field. Game 2 will be Monday in Billings, with Game 3 there Tuesday if necessary.
Ogden’s lone Pioneer League title since the Raptors brought baseball back to the city 30 years ago came in 2017. Billings last won in 2003.
Billings swept the regular-season series as it built a massive winning streak while the Raptors had several top pitchers, including Mitchell Stone and Jake Mulholland, on the injured list. The Mustangs won the first two games of the series by a combined score of 51-15 before the final four games took a more competitive tone.
Stone and Mulholland are Ogden’s likely starters in Games 1 and 2, and Billings has seen neither this season. Gilliam would surely be on tap for Game 3.
For the season, Ogden’s offense has been better, hitting .322 with a .411 on-base percentage for 7.8 runs per game. Billings hit .298 as a team with a .377 on-base percentage and 7.1 runs per game. The Mustangs’ pitching staff holds a 6.16 ERA to Ogden’s 6.68.
None of those stats may matter, however. With players on the injured list, Ogden’s last time out against Billings won’t look the same as this series. And Billings’ season-long stats include a 19-29 first half. They’ve certainly played like one of the league’s best by going 32-16 in the second half and streaking to 19 of their last 22.