BILLINGS — The Billings Mustangs will head into the Pioneer League playoffs with a winning overall record thanks to Saturday's 5-4 win over the Missoula Osprey in 11 innings at Dehler Park.
Missoula (40-36) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning on a home run from left fielder Kevin Watson Jr. (2 for 4, walk). That lead grew to 2-0 in the top of the eighth, but Billings (39-37) snagged the lead with three runs in the bottom half. The Osprey tied it up at 3-3 in the top of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
After both sides scored their designated runner in the 10th, Caleb Van Blake threw 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 at UC Davis in 2016. He allowed one run on one hit, walking one and striking out two in his two innings of work Saturday night.
The Mustangs walked off on a single from center fielder Quin Cotton, who finished 2 for 4 with a double and two walks. Substitute second baseman Tyler Calihan went 2 for 2 with a triple and a walk.
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Missoula starting pitcher Austin Pope pitched four hitless innings with one walk and three strikeouts. Billings starter Alberto Gonzalez allowed one earned run on two hits, no walks and a hit-batsman with five strikeouts.
The Mustangs will host the Idaho Falls Chukars at 5:15 p.m. Sunday to start the best-of-three Pioneer League North Division playoff series.
Missoula's overall record is best among all North teams and second only to the Ogden Raptors in the eight-team league. The Osprey finished 1 1/2 games behind Idaho Falls in the first half and four back of Billings in the second. They went 20-18 in each half.