Powell entered the tournament on a 7-1 hot streak and beat Rawlins 8-6 in the first game of the tournament before being eliminated by two straight losses.
Head coach Jason Borders described the feeling following the loss to Gillette in one word: “Sick.”
“We were not planning on going home that day,” Borders said.
The Pioneers’ plan to save their best pitching for the toughest opponents worked, didn’t work, and then really didn’t work.
“We fought all summer to win the conference and go to Douglas and win the number-one seed to set us up for a good spot in the tournament,” Borders said. “Nobody wanted to go home third or fourth.”
Powell kicked off the tournament with a win behind the arm of the team’s youngest player Wednesday. The next day, Powell’s ace couldn’t overcome an abhorrent nine errors committed by his defense. And by Friday afternoon the season was over after the Pioneers’ offense was unable to climb out of the hole created by a shaky pitcher-by-committee performance.
An 8-1 loss to the Cody Cubs, a game that was an intense pitchers’ dual until the final innings, was what ultimately derailed the Pioneers off their championship track.
“If we would have beat Cody everything would have been perfect,” Borders said.
A day after beating the Rawlins Generals 8-6 with 15-year-old Grady Sanders on the mound, Powell tasked Frankie Vogt (4-2, 3.04 ERA in 47.1 regular-season innings) with beating the Cubs, the team the Pioneers had defeated in a winner-takes-the-division tie-breaker.
Vogt had a disconcerting first inning against the Cubs. He gave up three singles, allowed one earned run and another on an error by Zander Andreasen in left field.
But the early 2-0 hole didn’t appear to be insurmountable as Vogt shut down the Cubs for the next six innings. Unfortunately for Powell, Cody started an equally unhittable pitcher in John Beaudrie.
The Beaudrie-Vogt matchup drew a large crowd.
“All the other teams came to watch Frankie and Beaudrie go at it,” Borders said.
The Pioneers were able to put only five baserunners on against Beaudrie, who pitched all nine innings.
“I honestly thought we hit him better than we had all year in that game,” Borders said.
Powell got plenty of contact off Beaudrie, but managed only four hits the entire game.
“We hit the ball all weekend, just right at people,” Borders said. “Nothing was falling.”
The Pioneers had scored six runs on five hits and five walks against Beaudrie in a 11-7 loss to Cody July 16.
On Friday, Brendon Phister, Hayden Cragoe, Bryce Wright and Sanders all singled against Cody. Cory Heny walked once.
Sanders had Powell’s lone RBI, which came on a fielder’s choice in the fourth inning that scored Hayden Cragoe.
Vogt finished after seven-and-two-thirds innings, six hits, three walks and 10 strikeouts. He gave up eight runs, only one of which was earned, by the time he was replaced by Wright in the eighth.
Powell’s defense committed six errors, one for every Cody run, in the eighth inning. Powell had a total of nine errors for the game compared to Cody’s one.
Wright gave up one hit before striking out the final Cody batter to end the Cubs’ six-run onslaught.
With Vogt’s effort wasted and elimination staring them in the face, the Pioneers had to find a way to win four more games with a relatively shallow pitching staff.
After much deliberation with his assistant coaches, Borders decided to turn to 16-year-old Matt Sweet, who pitched only five innings of relief in the regular season, to start against the host Gillette Rustlers.
“It was either him or we were going to start Cory (Heny),” Borders said.
Borders thought if the Pioneers could simply out-slug Gillette and possibly end the game short of nine innings, Powell would be in good shape heading into the tournament’s later rounds.
“When we lost to Cody, we had to win five games to win the whole thing,” Borders said. “I could have thrown Cory against Gillette and won that game, thrown Hayden against Green River and won that game, and then what?”
Sweet gave up 11 runs in four-and-one-third innings. Like with Vogt’s final inning against Cody, it was Sweet’s last gasp that drove the final nails into the Pioneers’ coffin.
Powell had scored the last four runs and the game was tied 8-8 before Sweet and Wright (who faced four batters but recorded no outs in his relief appearance) combined to allow five Gillette runs in the fifth.
Borders had no choice but to bring in Heny to try and salvage the game, and more importantly, the Pioneers’ season. He wishes he had made the change sooner.
“That’s the one thing I do regret,” Borders said.
Heny shut out the Rustlers in the sixth and seventh but Powell’s offense wasn’t able to cut into the lead.
Vogt, who was 0-for-7 in Powell’s first two games, bounced back with a 3-for-5, three-RBI game.
Overall, Powell’s offense performed much better than it did against Cody, but it wasn’t enough. Heny was 3-for-4 with a triple, one RBI, three runs scored and two stolen bases.
Sanders was 2-for-5 with a double and two runs scored. Wright was 3-for-4 with an RBI and run scored.
Gillette scored two runs on four hits in the eighth to increase the lead to 15-9 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
The miracle the Pioneers needed never came. Heny led off the inning with a triple and was driven in by Phister’s sacrifice fly, but, down six, Powell was in no position to trade outs for runs. Vogt lined to center and Henderson ended the game with a ground out to short.
The anger and frustration that the Pioneers displayed following the loss to Cody Thursday afternoon was absent. In its place was the silence of a defeated team without any more chances.
It would be tough to predict the Pioneers’ season would end like it did, especially after Wednesday’s victory over Rawlins. Powell owned a combined 4-2 record over Gillette and Cody entering the tournament, and had three of its best pitchers rested and ready to go
Sanders, who carried an 11.00 ERA over seven starts and 27 innings pitched into the tournament, had one of his best starts of the season in the tourney opener against the Rawlins Generals.
Sanders allowed only two runs (one earned), four hits and seven walks to the South’s No. 4 seed over seven-and-two-thirds innings. He left the game with a 6-2 lead that the Pioneers extended to 8-2 before the bottom of the ninth
“I see a ton of potential in him,” Borders said. “His mechanics on the mound are strong. He works at it.”
Things got too close for comfort in the ninth when the Rustlers took advantage of two Powell errors, three walks and a wild pitch to cut the score to 8-6 before Heny was brought in and retired both batters he faced.
Sanders did more than keep the Rustlers at bay, he was also Powell’s leader at the plate. Hitting from the seven-hole, Sanders went 2-for-4 with a run scored. He was the only Pioneer with multiple hits.
“It all started with that at-bat against (Marvin) Malone (the North’s pitcher of the year) in Douglas,” Borders said. “He gained so much confidence and the team kind of rallied around him.”
Heny was 1-for-3 with two walks, two RBIs and three runs scored. He also stole three bases.
Hayden Cragoe hit a two-run single in the eighth inning and drove in another run when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the second.
Phister and Wantulok each singled and drove in a run. Phister stole two bases. Cragoe, Vogt and Andreasen each stole one apiece.
The tournament came to a close Saturday evening with the Laramie Rangers crushing Cody 10-0 to win the state title. The Rangers cruised to a 4-0 tournament record by outscoring their opponents 45-4.
Though Powell played only three games, a few Pioneers were among the tournament’s statistical leaders.
Heny led all pitchers with a 78.3 percent first-pitch-strike rate against 23 batters faced over 5.1 innings pitched. He was also tied with a handful of other pitchers with a 0.00 ERA, but since Heny faced the second-most batters, he was ranked second. Offensively, Heny was fifth with a 1.200 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
Vogt’s 10 strikeouts had him tied for fourth-most among tournament pitchers.