PaddleHeads Win Game 1 of Playoffs, Close to Pioneer League Championship Spot | Pioneer League

With a fast start and plenty of fireworks at home plate, the Missoula PaddleHeads cruised to the brink of a second straight trip to the Pioneer League championship on Monday night.

The Zootown pro baseball team outscored the Billings Mustangs, 6-2, in Game 1 of the North Division playoff series at Dehler Park. The PaddleHeads can secure a trip to the championship with a victory over the Mustangs in Missoula on Wednesday night.

The PaddleHeads (70-26) set the tone with a solo home run from Brandon Riley and a Nick Gatewood RBI single in the first frame. Billings (53-42) responded with a solo shot in the second, but Missoula extended their lead to 5-1 with a two-run homer from Jared Akins and a Lamar Sparks RBI brace in the fourth.

It turned out to be all the visitors needed. Domingo Pena got the win, allowing just two earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts in six innings of service. Cody Thompson, Mark Simon and Sam Hellinger each pitched a scoreless inning in relief.

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Missoula finished with 12 hits to Billings’ five. Riley, Gatewood, Sparks and Keaton Greenwalt led the PaddleHeads with two hits apiece. Akins had a game-high three RBIs.

Missoula was 6-0 in games played against Billings at Ogren-Allegiance Park during the regular season. If the Mustangs win Wednesday night, the teams will play a do-or-die contest in Missoula on Thursday.

In Game 1 of the South Division series, the Grand Junction Rockies defeated the Ogden Raptors on Monday.

Missoula is aiming for its second straight Pioneer League championship under manager Michael Schlact. The PaddleHeads issued a good-natured challenge to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Twitter on Sunday, offering to take on this season’s winningest MLB team in a one-game showdown after the playoffs.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian’s sports editor and has been a Sunday columnist for the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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