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Pioneers sweep Cats, capture No. 1 seed

Powell American Legion team opens play at state tournament Wednesday

With their destiny placed firmly back in their hands, the Powell Pioneers cruised past the Douglas Cats and into the Wyoming American Legion State Tournament.

“Couldn’t have asked for it to go any better,” said Pioneers head coach Jason Borders. “They acted like they were supposed to win that game. It was kind of nice to see how they handled their business.”

A two-game sweep of Douglas at the North District Tournament in Douglas Thursday and Friday clinched the No. 1 seed from the north at the state tournament. Gillette will host the eight-team, double-elimination state tournament Wednesday through Saturday.

Powell (27-21) will open against Rawlins on Wednesday.

The Pioneers outscored the Cats 27-8 in the only two games needed in their best-of-three series.

Powell won game one 15-3 in seven innings behind an all-around effort from Cory Heny.

Heny pitched a complete game six-hitter on only 90 pitches. He struck out four and walked only one in the rout. At the plate Heny went 4-for-5 and scored three runs. He was 5-for-8 with three RBIs, six runs and a stolen base in the series.

“He’s just constantly getting better,” Borders said. “He hates to lose. We knew he’d go out and give us a chance.”

Perhaps the most consistent Pioneers player, Heny’s stellar production isn’t so much a surprise as it is an expectation. The unexpected note came from the bottom half of the lineup, which Borders said has sparked the Pioneers’ recent 7-1 run.

“We’re starting to get a little more from the bottom of the lineup,” Borders said. “The production we’re getting down from the end is starting to feed those 10-run games.”

Every Pioneer reached base in game one and all but one crossed home plate.

“What we’re getting from 7-8-9 is pretty big,” Borders said. “All of them have worked really hard lately.”

Grady Sanders, Jared Wantulok and Zander Andreasen, who usually bat seventh, eighth, ninth, respectively, were a combined 10-for-23 in the two games against Douglas.

Both Sanders and Wantulok drove in three while scoring another. Andreasen drove in two and scored two more while drawing two walks. More importantly, the bottom third kept the lineup in constant turnover, getting more at-bats for the likes of Heny, Brendon Phister and Frankie Vogt.

Phister was moved to the two-hole after he raised his batting average from .309 to .373 since July 8.

“If you get him (Phister) and Cory on, with Frankie coming up, you’re bound to score some runs,” Borders said.

Phister responded well to his new spot in the order and went 3-for-8 with five runs scored, four driven in and a stolen base.

Meanwhile, Wantulok’s offense complemented his solid defense at catcher.

“He did a good job behind the plate,” Borders said. “We didn’t have a lot of passed balls.”

Powell committed only one error in Douglas, a sign the defense may finally be coming together. Borders said fielding was a focus at recent practices.

“No errors,” Borders said. “We’re pitching good and we’re hitting the ball. It does wonders for a staff when they don’t have to pitch full games.”

Hayden Cragoe didn’t pitch a full game, but he threw 143 pitches in seven innings in a tightly contested 12-5 Powell victory. Well, as tightly contested as 12-5 games can be.

Powell trailed 4-0 in the fifth inning before finally getting to Douglas ace Marvin Malone.

“We were not looking very sharp against him,” Borders said.

Sanders’ at-bat to lead off the fifth-inning was the turning point for the Pioneers, Borders said.

Even though he eventually popped out, Sanders’ 14-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off 10 pitches gave the Pioneers the confidence that they could do some damage against Malone. Powell went on to load the bases and score runs on RBI singles by Phister, Henderson and Cragoe, as well as a wild pitch. The four runs both tied the game and chased Malone back to the dugout.

“We did a really good job of getting (Malone) out of there,” Borders said.

Malone exited the game down 5-4 after throwing five innings and 110 pitches. Then the Powell offense went to work on two Douglas relievers.

“In a nine-inning game I knew we’d have a chance,” Borders said.

Powell scored one run in the sixth and seven in the seventh to blow the game open. The offensive explosion was highlighted by Heny’s two-run double and RBI singles by Sanders and Andreasen.

Cragoe gave up 10 hits and five walks but also struck out 10 in his workhorse outing.

Vogt returned to his early-season role as closer and came in to shut down the Cats in the eighth and ninth innings. Vogt gave up no hits, walked two and struck out a pair.

Borders said he was going to be cautious with Vogt, but knew that with a seven-run lead he wouldn’t have to use him — or anyone else, for that matter — in a game three.

But Borders said he won’t have the luxury of using Vogt as his long-reliever at state.

“We’ll have to start him,” Borders said.

Cragoe was 4-for-7 with three runs, one RBI, two walks and two stolen bases. Cragoe hit fifth, behind Gage Henderson, who had only two hits but drove in five runs and scored two against the Cats.

The Pioneers will leave for Gillette Wednesday and begin their tournament run against Rawlins at 4 p.m. Rawlins was 21-31 this season.

Powell will face the winner of the 9:30 a.m. Cody vs. Green River game.

The Pioneers hold a 3-1 record against Cody this year and beat Green River 9-5 in Powell during their lone matchup with the Knights.

On the South side of the bracket, Laramie (31-17-1) looms as the No. 1 seed and the team Borders said hopeful championship teams will probably have to go through.

Wyoming’s American Legion champions will advance to the Northwest Regionals to face the best teams of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The 2013 Northwest Regionals will be held in Wheatland.

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