Powell dropped the tournament opener 15-11 to the Billings Angels and was embarrassed by the Billings Halos in a 13-0, six-inning game Saturday afternoon.
Each loss was followed by a reassuring win against a Conference A, Northwest Division rival. Powell beat Lovell 7-2 Friday night and Cody 7-4 the following night behind complete games from Cory Heny and Frankie Vogt.
Pioneers head coach Jason Borders said he doesn’t understand how his team’s performance can change so drastically in the span of just a few hours, and even though his team remained at .500 (6-6), he can’t help but dwell on the losses.
“If I could figure this team out right now I would,” Borders said. “We can be really good at times and we can be really bad at times. I don’t have an answer for it. If I did I’d fix it.”
The Pioneers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde play was encapsulated in their opening loss to the Angels.
A solo home run from Cory Heny and a two-run blast from Frankie Vogt powered Powell’s five-run first inning. But the Pioneers immediately gave all five runs back in the latter half of the inning. Powell then scored another five runs in the second and third innings, only to allow the Angels to score another five of their own.
The Angels pulled away with a four-run fourth inning to put them up for good.
The home runs were the only hits for Heny and Vogt in the loss. Hayden Cragoe went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs and Gage Henderson went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Starting pitcher Bryce Wright went only one and two-thirds innings due to an ankle injury suffered while trying to beat a throw to first base after hitting a slow-rolling ground ball. Borders said he hopes Wright didn’t tear any ligaments and will be able to return within two to three weeks.
Matt Brown pitched four and a third innings of relief, gave up eight runs (six earned) on five hits and six walks.
“We put runs on the board and then we give them back,” said Borders.
The first half of that sentence couldn’t be said for Powell’s Saturday loss against the Halos, Billings’ other team.
The Pioneers were shut out by the Halos’ Chance Lujan, who held Powell to three hits while striking out nine. Lujan walked eight batters but the Pioneers were unable to convert those baserunners into runs.
“He’s probably the hardest-throwing kid we’ve seen this year,” Borders said of Lujan.
Heny, Henderson and Zander Andreasen each singled in the game for Powell.
The game ended after the Pioneers failed to cut the lead to less than 10 after six innings, a mercy rule in effect during the tournament.
Cragoe was Lujan’s Pioneer counterpart for the first five and one-third innings of the game. Cragoe gave up 12 of Billings’ 13 runs, though only seven were earned. He gave up five hits and four walks while striking out five.
Borders said Heny pitched better than the stats and score indicate.
“Hayden threw a good game,” he said. “We can live with (four walks). It’s the 10 walks in a game, 11 walks in a game that kills you.”
As do errors. The Pioneers were unable to shake their defensive woes and committed a total of 11 errors in the two losses, compared to just four in their two wins.
Borders said defenses have a tendency to “fall asleep” when their pitcher is giving up multiple walks per inning. Powell gave 16 free passes in their two losses but only five in the victories.
Borders said he is proud of how his team bounced back from the mercy rule-shortened game.
“We couldn’t do a thing right. Seven errors, (three) hits,” Borders said. “And then turn around and beat Cody under the lights, on their field. I give them all the credit in the world for that.”
After being the subjects of a pitching clinic a game earlier, Powell starter Vogt put on one of his own.
He struck out 14, gave up seven hits and walked only two while allowing three earned runs.
“He was throwing pretty hard, had a lot of pop on his fastball,” Borders said.
Vogt had a lot of pop at the plate, too. He went 3-for-4 with one RBI and two runs scored.
Brendon Phister swung a big bat in the win as well. Phister drove in three runs and scored once himself on two hits and a walk.
“He always puts the ball in play,” Borders said. “Big RBIs when we needed them – clutch hits.”
Powell was clutch yet again in Friday night’s extra-inning win over the Mustangs.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning, Powell was shut out until the eighth, when its offense exploded for five runs to bury Lovell
Heny pitched all eight innings, gave up two runs on seven hits, struck out seven and walked three.
“He pitches to contact (and) our guys stayed awake behind him,” Borders said. “He’s a competitor, he doesn’t want to get beat. He just battles.”
Like Vogt, Heny helped his own cause on the offensive side by going 3-for-4 and scoring twice.
Henderson added three RBIs and a run on two hits and one walk, and Matt Sweet hit three singles and scored a run.
The Pioneers’ Sunday game was canceled due to a roster short on players because of injuries and obligations to other sports.
Wright rolled his ankle on first base trying to beat out a throw during Powell’s game against the Angels.
Cragoe, Heny, Phister and Sweet were attending a football camp and will be away from the Pioneers until Wednesday evening.
The Pioneers’ roller-coaster weekend had Borders both frustrated and hopeful Monday morning.
“It just baffles me how we play sometimes,” Borders said. “Hopefully we figure it out. We have a long summer to work through it.”
The Pioneers begin pool play of the Cash Wise/Delaney Recycling tournament Thursday in Williston, N.D. Bracket play begins Saturday.