“Obviously, it’s very disappointing,” said Pioneer skipper Mike Jameson, whose team finished with an impressive 31-17 record but won’t have the opportunity to defend its title in Cheyenne when state tournament play begins. “You always want to play your best baseball at the end of the season, and I didn’t feel like we did that this weekend. Anything can happen in tournaments, and it did.”
Powell had its back placed against the wall early. After scoring three runs in the top of the first inning of its tournament opener against Douglas, Powell struggled and managed just one more run over the final eight innings, losing 12-4.
Defensively, the Pioneers allowed a pair of big innings as Douglas answered Powell’s early barrage with a five-run bottom of the first. The Cats added six runs in the fourth inning after a pair of Powell errors and two hit batters helped keep the frame alive.
Olie Olson and Seth Gilmore each finished with three hits and one RBI in the contest to lead the Pioneers offensively. Josh Cragoe took the loss on the mound.
The early defeat placed Powell in must-win territory for the remainder of the tournament. The Pioneers responded the following morning with a 22-6 rout of Riverton, but had to endure several early innings with only a one-run lead to show. A late barrage, including a seven-run ninth inning, helped elevate the game to blowout status.
Gilmore finished 4-for-7 at the plate. Jake Beuster, Frankie Vogt and Olson each finished the contest with three hits. Beuster was responsible for a team-best four RBIs in the win.
Justin Lynn threw a complete-game victory for Powell in the contest, walking just two over the course of nine innings and also striking out six.
“Justin threw a heck of a game for us,” said Jameson. “He ate a lot of innings for us with that performance and really had an outstanding weekend of baseball. He made some big catches for us in right field.”
The win over Riverton lifted Powell into an elimination contest against Casper with the winner qualifying for the state tournament. Powell jumped to an early 4-1 lead, but Casper tied the contest in the fourth and the teams spent the middle innings deadlocked on the scoreboard.
“That’s the sort of game you’re going to get in a loser-out situation,” Jameson said of the nip and tuck contest. “Both teams had their chances to break it open and neither team was able to. They finally were able to execute just a little better at times and got some things that we weren’t able to.”
The Oilers took the lead for good in the seventh inning. Powell had a chance to regain the lead in the bottom of the frame, but Olson struck out with the bases loaded with Pioneers.
Powell pulled to within a run in the eighth inning and had the tying and go-ahead runs on base, only to have the Oilers coax Pioneer lead-off hitter Josh Cragoe into an infield ground out to escape the frame. Casper added four runs in the ninth, but the Pioneers again were able to position themselves for a possible storybook finish.
Garrett Czapla, representing Powell’s tying run, was caught in a rundown between third and home on a sharply hit one-hopper back to the pitcher’s mound. Colt Nix struck out with two runners on to end the game.
“We had opportunities,” Jameson said.
Lynn finished the contest 4-for-6 with a double and a triple in the contest. Vogt added a 3-for-6 performance with a pair of RBIs.
Tyler England, the only member of this summer’s Pioneer roster who will not be eligible to return next year, closed out his career with a 3-for-6 day that included three runs scored and two RBIs. One of those runs came early on a rundown play where England changed direction five times between third and home plate before sliding under a tag and into home with a run.
“Some kids just have that knack for running bases, and he’s one of them,” Jameson said. “With his speed and quickness, it really caused problems for other teams and that play kind of illustrates how.”
With the bulk of the roster slated to return, the Pioneers’ task for next season now turns toward returning to state.
“We’re going to spend some time talking as coaches,” Jameson said. “I think the biggest thing I see is we need to develop that killer instinct that we had the two previous years. We didn’t seem to have that fire in our bellies this year.”
The Pioneers’ skipper also said an improvement in consistency was needed.
“We struggled at times to put all three phases of the game together and keep it going through the game and through the year,” Jameson said.
The Pioneers’ roster could benefit from increased depth next season with several players eligible to move up from the Babe Ruth ranks.
“Competition brings out the best in everyone,” Jameson said. “Hopefully next year we can get some more kids out fighting for positions and helping to make everyone better.”