Pioneers manager Jason Borders said he knew his team was capable of playing like it did in Cody and deserved to be in state.
“I’ve had confidence in this team all year,” Borders said. “I think we set ourselves up pretty good by taking second. That was our main goal, just to qualify, whether it was first, second, third, whatever.”
The Pioneers (18-27) lost in the North District championship game 11-1 to the Cody Cubs, who will bring single-A’s best record and the North’s No. 1 seed into the state tournament.
Powell is 0-6 against the Cubs in 2014 and Borders said Cody is the sole squad he fears at state.
“I think Cody is the best team in the state and we have trouble with them,” Borders said. “To me they’re the only team I really worry about.”
The Pioneers could see Cody (40-14) again in a potential state title game. A win against Laramie Wednesday would pit Powell against the Casper/Green River winner at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Powell played Laramie once this season during a tournament in Billings, though the game’s results aren’t indicative of how the teams match up.
The Pioneers lost 12-2 during the Sunday morning game in which they were without Zander Andreasen, Brendon Phister, Teagan Cordes and Ezra Andreasen. The lineup was thinned and players were forced to play out of position, Borders said.
The Powell manager said Laramie’s season has been up and down, similar to Powell’s, and Laramie is capable of beating any team on any given day. Laramie beat the Torrington Tigers 16-5 Saturday to eliminate the South’s top-ranked team from state tournament contention.
Powell did not play Green River (27-21), the South’s top seed, this season but is 3-1 against Casper.
Borders said he knows little about the Green River Knights other than what he’s seen from box scores and talking to a few coaches.
“They lost some good kids last year and they had kids that moved away this year,” Borders said. “I know they’re scrappy. They’re always in a game, they don’t usually get blown out.”
An opening round loss would move the Pioneers to an elimination game against the Casper/Green River loser.
Powell clinched its state tourney berth with a 9-7 semifinal win over the Douglas Cats Friday afternoon.
Grady Sanders hit a three-run homer to highlight Powell’s five-run first inning. The Pioneers added another run in the top of the third but Douglas scored one in the first, two in the second and three in the bottom of the third to take a 7-6 lead.
Matt Brown releived starter Ty Whiteman in the third inning and shut down the Cats to help Powell secure the victory after blowing the early lead.
Brown gave up one unearned run in the third and allowed only five hits and no walks in six and two-thirds innings of work that gave Borders more confidence in his pitching staff.
“He threw his [butt] off all weekend for us,” Borders said of Brown. “I think we’re in good shape pitching-wise.”
Sanders was 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored from the designated hitter spot. Shortstop Hayden Cragoe was 2-for-5 with two runs scored, third baseman Cory Heny was 2-for-5 with an RBI and catcher Jared Wantulok was 2-for-4.
Powell was fortunate to avoid Cats starter Marvin Malone, who is widely considered one of the state’s top arms. Borders said he was surprised to learn Malone wouldn’t take the mound against the Pioneers.
Thursday’s tournament-opener against Casper was never in doubt.
Sanders gave up two runs (one earned) in five innings on the hill and the Pioneers offense slugged themselves to a 13-3 win that put them a game away from qualifying for state.
Powell had 17 hits and limited Casper to just five in the game limited to seven innings.
Heny hit a double and Matt Sweet came around to score the 13th and final Powell run in the bottom of the seventh.
First baseman Bryce Wright was 3-for-4 with a three-run home run, six RBIs and a run scored.
Heny was 4-for-5 with three runs scored and three stolen bases. Cragoe was 2-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs and two runs scored.
Zander Andreasen was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base. Sweet was 2-for-4 with an RBI, two runs and a stolen base. Sanders was 2-for-3 with a double.
From the rubber, Sanders allowed four hits and two walks while striking out five.
Brown came in to pitch the final two innings and allowed a run on one hit, one walk and three strikeouts.
Powell’s pitching didn’t hold up for the third and final game of the tournament.
Heny was hit hard for five innings and left with Powell trailing 8-0. He allowed nine hits and two walks though only three of his runs were earned. The Pioneers defense committed four errors against Cody.
Borders said the Cubs have become too familiar with Heny, normally one of Powell’s most reliable pitchers. Heny also normally thrives when pounding the zone, but couldn’t miss Cody’s bats. He struck out only one Cub.
Carson Asher came in to pitch the final three innings and gave up three runs on four hits. He struck out two.
Borders said Asher was a change of pace and wouldn’t hesitate to pitch him — whether in a start or in relief — again at state.
“He has that nice little curveball and is a little wild,” Borders said of Asher, 16. “The kid has no fear. I don’t think he thinks about it. He just goes out and throws.”
Zander Andreasen was 2-for-3 with a walk, Heny was 1-for-3 with a walk and Asher was 1-for-2.
Powell scored its lone run on Heny’s steal of home in the bottom of the eighth.
Borders said Whiteman just didn’t have his best stuff against Douglas and was throwing bullpen sessions this week to make the necessary corrections.
Whiteman will get the nod Wednesday against Laramie, Borders said.
The team will leave for Laramie Wednesday morning, and though the bus ride will be long Borders doesn’t think travel will affect his Powell’s play.