Almost every team that makes it to the Little League World Series is almost, by definition, a Cinderella story. The American teams, at least, are generally composed of players from small communities that each have their special little stories about how they made it to South Williamsport, Penn. But even among that group, this year's crop the team from Billings, Mon. stands out.
The Big Sky Little League team advanced to youth baseball's biggest stage by beating Bend South Little League 7-1 on Saturday in the championship of the Northwest Regional. In doing so, they became the first team from Montana to ever advance to the LLWS.
Historically, the Northwest has been dominated by teams from Washington, the region's most populace state. Since the region was formed in 2001 when the West broken up as part of the tournament's expansion from eight to 16 teams, teams from Washington have represented the region six of 10 previous years. Hawaii and Oregon have also represented the region twice. No Montana team had even advanced as far as the Northwest championship game. It was also the first time since 2001 that Big Sky has represented Montana in the tournament, as Boulder Arrowhead had represented the state each of the past three years.
On their way to Pennsylvania, Big Sky caught a bit of a break when the Oregon team knocked off the No. 1-seeded team from Washington, North Bothell. Big Sky took care of business on their end by beating Idaho's Lewiston 6-2 in the semifinals.
In the championship game, Cole McKenzie and Patrick Zimmer provided the big contributions. McKenzie hit a grand slam that highlighted a six-run fourth inning that broke open a 1-0 game. McKenzie went 3-for-3 in the game. He hit three home runs in the tournament and went 13-for-19 with 11 RBIs. Zimmer was the game's winning pitcher, going five innings and allowing just four hits and one run.
Big Sky will open against South Dakota's Harney Little League, the Midwest champion, on Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and ESPN3.com.