The Powell Pioneers crushed the Cody Cubs 10-4 Sunday in an anticlimactic victory that crowned them champions of their own Heavy Metal Baseball Tournament.
Head coach Jason Borders said his team just went out and played four games of solid baseball, and didn’t let the emotions of the tournament affect its play.
“The funny thing is, they don’t get too up and they don’t get too down,” he said. “It’s almost like they expected to win, which is awesome.”
Powell won the weekend with a perfect 4-0 record that came with seemingly little trouble.
“They’re just pretty relaxed and confident,” Borders said. “If that’s how they’re going to play, that’s fine.”
The Pioneers won their games by margins of nine, nine, six and four runs, and only two games required the full seven innings.
But that narrative was supposed to stop in the afternoon championship game.
It wasn’t unexpected for Powell, which now has a six-game winning streak, to cruise through pool play. The Douglas Cats came into the tournament losers of four of their past six, Green River three of their past six, and Laramie left their “A” team at home to take on the Billings Halos.
And despite going 3-0 in their pool play themselves, the play of Cody’s “A” team Sunday barely garnered a passing grade.
Powell batters jumped on Cody starter Zach Anderson early, scoring seven runs before chasing the pitcher off the mound before he could record an out in the second inning.
Anderson struggled with command as he walked three batters and hit another in his short time on the mound. When he did find the strike zone Powell’s sluggers met his pitches with a dose of their own heavy metal.
Cory Heny, Frankie Vogt and Gage Henderson all connected for hits in the bottom of the first to set the game’s tone.
Cody reliever Kevin Page settled things down for the Cubs and allowed only one Pioneers run after the second inning. But it was too late for a team down 9-1 with no sign of a rally to come.
Powell starter Hayden Cragoe went the distance, throwing 135 pitches over seven innings. He gave up seven hits, seven walks and struck out nine.
Cragoe allowed the first Cody batter of the inning to reach base four times, but in only two innings was Cody able to plate a baserunner.
Cragoe helped himself in the batter’s box by going 1-for-2, drawing a walk and scoring twice.
Cody’s six-inning three-run rally was a last-ditch effort to make the game interesting, but the second of two Powell double plays dashed any comeback hopes the Cubs may have had. After scoring three runs and recording no outs, Cragoe was facing a potentially spirit-crushing meltdown. With Brock Goodwin on third, Page found himself in the batter’s box and in prime position to get himself — and his team — within striking distance.
Page promptly sent Cragoe’s pitch on a rope right back up the middle, prompting Goodwin to take off for home. Neither Cub anticipated Powell second baseman Matt Sweet snagging the ball out of its flight path and then firing a dart to third basemen Grady Sanders to kill Cody’s momentum.
“In the beginning of the year, when we (gave up) those big innings we just unraveled,” Borders said. “(Now) we’ve figured out ways to not get down. That’s the difference I’m seeing in our team right now.”
Vogt, who recently took over shortstop duties, was the only Pioneer with multiple hits. Vogt legged out two doubles, walked once, drove in three runs and scored twice.
Henderson hit an RBI single in the first inning for his only hit of the game. He scored later in the first on a Cody throwing error.
Catcher Jared Wantulok hit an RBI single in the bottom of the second to drive in the Pioneers’ ninth run of the game. Wantulok stole second in the fourth inning and third in the second.
Heny led the Pioneers with three stolen bags. He swiped second twice and third once. Heny’s speed led to two runs scored.
Powell reached the championship game by beating Green River in Saturday’s night game. The Knights were also 2-0 against pool opponents, setting up a true semifinal, winner-advances game.
The Knights responded to Powell’s one-run first inning with a two-run top of the second. From that point to the bottom of the third was the only span of time Powell trailed in any tournament game following the first inning.
The Pioneers scored a total of eight runs in the third through fifth innings to regain the lead and put a comfortable distance between themselves and Green River.
Vogt’s two-run, third-inning home run (his third of the tournament) put Powell up 3-2, and the Pioneers would not trail again. Vogt went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, three runs scored, and two stolen bases.
“The kid is putting on a clinic this year as far as hitting goes,” Borders said.
Heny started for Powell and dared the Knights to hit his stuff. He gave up no walks and struck out six as he challenged every batter. He gave up nine hits and five runs (only two earned) during his third complete game of the season.
Borders said he felt confident that Heny was healthy and well-rested, and trusted his horse to pitch a full game.
“He doesn’t want to lose when he’s out there. He’s going to give his defense every opportunity to make a play,” Borders said. “You can’t ask more from a kid than what Cory gives you every time he goes out.”
At the plate, Heny made his only hit count. He sent the first pitch he saw from Green River pitcher Austin Zeglen over the left field fence, scoring second baseman Zander Andreasen.
Henderson didn’t go yard but went 3-for-3 with a walk, two RBIs and a run scored.
“He’s just quietly going about his business and getting jobs done,” Borders said. “He always seems to get big hits when we need it.”
Powell played two games on Friday, both routs that were called after five innings due to the tournament’s mercy rule.
The Pioneers opened with a 10-1 early-afternoon win over Douglas before pounding the Laramie Rangers 12-3 in the nightcap.
Powell managed only five hits in four innings against Douglas but drew seven walks to score 10 runs in the game’s first three innings. The heart of the Pioneers’ order carried the offense, led by Vogt’s three-run home run in the third. Each of Powell’s first six batters drove in a run and six of the top seven scored.
Vogt’s three RBIs and two runs came on two hits and a walk. Henderson hit a double to drive in a run and scored twice. Heny scored both times he got on base via walk.
Brendon Phister went 1-for-2 with a double, walk, RBI and run. Grady Sanders added an RBI single and scored as well. Zander Andreasen reached on a walk and scored on Vogt’s home run.
Sanders was on the mound for Powell and allowed only three baserunners as he had little trouble taming the Cats. Sanders struck out seven and walked two on his way to a five-inning one-hitter.
Powell’s offense was again led by its usual suspects. Cragoe hit two home runs, including a first-inning inside-the-park home run that scored Heny. Cragoe’s blasts drove in three, and he crossed the plate three times himself.
Vogt went 3-for-4 with a solo home run of his own. He went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and two runs. Heny, Wantulok, Matt Brown and Ben Wetzel each added an RBI of their own.
Brown pitched all five innings and got the win against the youthful Rangers. Brown gave up five hits, six walks and struck out five.
The Pioneers never had to use a reliever during the tournament as all four starters went the distance.
“That means you’re in charge and you’re winning and you’re controlling the game,” Borders said.
Powell will resume league play this week with a game Wednesday versus Cody at 5:30 p.m. Today’s (Tuesday’s) game against Riverton will not be played. Borders said the teams will try to make it up later in the season.