BILLINGS - It's well documented. Only one Montana 11-12 Little League baseball team has ever punched a ticket to Williamsport, Pa. The Big Sky All-Stars from Billings exactly 10 years ago this summer, who went on to reach the U.S. Championship game.
Now, back to the future, as Boulder/Arrowhead's 11-12 year-old Billings players are ever so close to recreating that magic Thursday night.
"I'm more excited than nervous and I know a lot of kids on our team are, too," catcher Brooks Lambrecht told MTN Sports Thursday morning via Zoom.
Lambrecht has handled the majority of catching duties for B/A this summer. Tonight, the all-stars face an undefeated semifinal against Sammamish, Washington, at 7 p.m. on ESPN with a watch party scheduled at Buffalo Wild Wings in Billings. The winner rolls into next week's Little League World Series.
"They have pitchers who pitch pretty hard so that's what we've been doing in practice," Lambrecht said. "Just getting a foot down and hands quick to the ball."
"I can tell you, my arm and body are pretty sore today for how hard I was throwing yesterday in batting practice," manager Jeff Ballard said with a laugh. "I guess the kids are lucky they have coaches who can throw hard."
Sammamish and Boulder/Arrowhead have each played once, both winning. Washington also earned a forfeit win when Alaska had to bail out for COVID-19 reasons.
B/A enjoyed a first-round bye then rallied for a walk-off win over Eagle, Idaho, 6-5 on Monday.
Because of the pandemic, no non-U.S. teams are allowed into this year's LLWS, meaning the top two regional teams advance. Tonight's winner is in while the loser draws Oregon for the same stakes tomorrow night. Montana, Washington and Oregon are the only remaining Northwest Regional teams.
Ballard and his assistants are well aware of the chess match.
"We can't put all our eggs in one basket tonight and throw everybody, hoping to win the game," Ballard said. "You've got to let the game develop and see where you are. But, you always have to keep tomorrow in mind because the ultimate goal is not to win this, but to get Williamsport."
Geographically, B/A may be the farthest team from home remaining in San Bernardino, Cali., but players have the benefit of a strong following.
"Every kid has at least one parent here," Ballard said. "I think most of them have both parents here and some siblings. So, we have a nice little fan section here."
Teams house together in one compound area and have already gotten to know some of the opponents.
"We've made friends with some Washington kids, some Oregon kids," Lambrecht said.
Who knows. That may be the difference-maker in calming nerves.
Brooks says he and his teammates have mostly been eating meals at the compound, but lit up a little when he told us they did get pizza last night.