A three-way tie in the Northeast Division between Casper, Douglas and Gillette prompted those teams to decide their fates on the diamond. When Powell and Cody heard there was an alternative to a coin flip, their managers sought approval for their own playoff.
The game that will be remembered for propelling the Pioneers into the postseason was an uncharacteristically low-scoring affair.
Powell placed its season in the right hand of starter Hayden Cragoe. Cragoe was both dominant and efficient as he led the Pioneers past the Cubs.
He struck out 10 and walked none in a complete-game four-hitter. Cragoe threw 69 of his 94 pitches for strikes, his best strike-to-pitch ratio in any start this season.
“He just really stepped up and took it on himself to put us in a good position,” head coach Jason Borders said. “I think he just went in trying to jump ahead of hitters, trying to get ahead early.”
The Pioneers didn’t have the explosive offense to match Cragoe’s commanding performance, but they didn’t need it. Powell got by with four runs on five hits (all singles) and just two RBI.
The Pioneers and Cubs scrapped through three scoreless and hitless innings before Cody broke the 0-0 tie with two sacrifice flies in the fourth.
Powell didn’t wait long to respond.
Finally able to string together baserunners, the Pioneers scored their first run when Cody right fielder Cameron Myers misplayed Cragoe’s single, allowing Frankie Vogt to score from second.
Gage Henderson, who had singled earlier in the inning, scored from third on Grady Sanders’ sacrifice fly.
Cragoe held the Cubs in check the rest of the way and waited for Powell’s small-ball approach to give him a lead.
Powell did just that in the fifth on yet another sacrifice fly, the fourth of the game. Singles by Cory Heny and then Brendon Phister moved Zander Andreasen — who led off with a walk — to third with no outs.
Frankie Vogt flew out and all runners advanced, including Andreasen to home.
“We had to manufacture runs,” Borders said. “We weren’t going to go put 10 on this pitcher.”
Sanders singled in the sixth, advanced to second on an error and to third and home on wild pitches.
Sanders went 1-for-2 with a RBI and run scored.
Phister reached base three times to lead the Pioneers. He singled, walked and was hit by a pitch. Vogt was 0-for-2 but drove in a run and scored another.
Henderson was 1-for-3 with a run scored. Cragoe and Heny each went 1-for-3.
“It was one of those days when everything worked,” Borders said.
The Pioneers took Sunday off before heading back to practice Monday. Powell will head to the district tournament in Douglas Thursday morning to begin a best-of-three series against the host Cats. The winner of the series will be the North’s No. 1 seed at the state tournament in Gillette. The loser will be seeded second.
Powell will take on Douglas Thursday at 6 p.m., Friday at 6 p.m., and Saturday at 2 p.m., if necessary.
Cody, along with Gillette and seven other North District teams, will have a chance to qualify for the state tournament by finishing in the top two of the eight-team field at the double-elimination district tournament.
The Pioneers’ division-sealing win followed a week of strong play. Since Powell’s 11-7 loss to Cody July 16, the club has won five of six, and is now 25-21 overall.
“It’s just been kind of a whirlwind the past four, five days,” Borders said.
Powell’s offense picked it up the past week, scoring 79 runs in the five games prior to the victory in Cody.
“I think we’re taking better approaches at the plate,” Borders said. “We’re not chasing balls out of the zone and striking ourselves out. We’re getting on base, we’re taking our walks.”
The Pioneers beat Gillette 19-9 in a midday warmup to Saturday’s main event. Ben Wetzel got the win in his first pitching action of the year.
Wetzel pitched all six innings, allowed nine runs (six earned) on seven hits, seven walks and four strikeouts. He hit three batters.
Everyone contributed at the plate in the six-inning rout.
Vogt’s double in the sixth completed the cycle. He was 5-for-5 with five RBI and three runs. His home run was a solo shot.
Phister went 3-for-5 with two RBI and three runs. Heny had three hits in four at-bats for four run and one RBI.
Henderson drove in three and scored two on two hits in four at-bats. Cragoe drove in two and scored two during his 2-for-4 day. Bryce Wright hit a double, drove in two and scored twice.
Powell won another 10-run game Friday against the Miles City Outlaws.
The Pioneers scored a run in every inning, including 13 in the third, to win 17-7 in five innings.
Jared Wantulok hit a three-run home run to drive in Powell’s 13th, 14th and 15th runs in the third inning. The homer was Wantulok’s only hit of the game.
Wright went 3-for-3 with three RBI and another three runs scored. Henderson went 3-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Heny was 3-for-3 with a RBI and two runs scored.
Wright pitched all five innings for the Pioneers. He allowed seven runs (just three earned) on seven hits and five walks.
Powell’s most recent loss came in the second game of the doubleheader, in what almost was an epic comeback.
The Pioneers trailed 13-1 in the fourth inning before turning the bats up and losing 14-12.
The Outlaws did all they could to give the game back to Powell by committing 10 errors, the most by any Pioneers opponent this season.
Cragoe was 1-for-5 with two RBI and a run scored. Andreasen drove in two and scored one on his lone hit of the day. Vogt went 2-for-3 with one RBI and a run scored.
Sanders, Henderson and Wright combined to pitch seven innings. Most of the damage was done off Sanders, who gave up 12 earned runs off nine hits in two-and-two-thirds innings. Henderson walked six in three-and-two-thirds but gave up just two runs. Wright struck out the only two batters he faced.
The trend of 10-run wins began Wednesday, when Powell beat Riverton by double digits in back-to-back games.
Matt Brown pitched a five-inning complete game in the front half of doubleheader to win 11-1. He gave up only one run on six hits and three walks. Brown struck out eight.
“Matt stepped up when we needed arms,” Borders said. “I can’t say enough about my pitching right now.”
Brown drove in three runs and scored another on one hit. Henderson went 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs. Heny was 2-for-4 with one RBI and a run scored.
The Pioneers were active on the basepaths and stole a total of 11 bags. Heny, Vogt and Wright each had two while Phister, Henderson, Brown, Dillon Nix and Matt Sweet had one apiece.
The Pioneers followed that performance up with an 18-8 win in the second contest.
Heny pitched six innings and struck out nine in the win, but did most of his damage on offense. He went 4-for-5 from the leadoff spot, scored four times and drove in one. He hit a double and a triple and also stole two bases.
Cragoe and Vogt each had a double and triple in the game as well.
Vogt’s three hits and two walks led to three RBI and five runs. Cragoe was 2-for-4 with three RBI and three runs.
Sanders went 3-for-4 with three RBI and a run.
Borders hopes his team carries this offensive momentum in districts and then state.
“They played great all week. They really came around and started playing baseball like we expected all year,” Borders said. “We feel pretty good about it with the way we’re swinging it. Maybe we’re just peaking at the right time.”