For much of the 2018 season, the Powell Pioneers’ woes have come in games that are close early, but unravel late, usually due to one big inning.
Playing against Lovell on Tuesday night, the Pioneers avoided a big inning, but struggled at the plate, facing a buzzsaw on the hill in the form of Mustangs ace Jeremy Schneider. Schneider showed why he was named last season’s Pitcher of the Year, fanning seven of the first 10 batters he faced en route to a 7-0 shutout at Cowley’s Legion Field. The hard-throwing starter gave up just four hits in seven innings of work, striking out 14 to pick up the win.
“He [Schneider] was on top of it tonight. That’s the best I’ve ever seen him throw,” said Powell manager Joe Cates. “He was good last year, but I don’t know if he had the velocity he had tonight. His command was good, his curveball was good. Our kids were late on his fastball, and it was hard to tell off the hand what he was throwing. He didn’t have any dead giveaways; he knew what he was throwing.”
The game began as a pitcher’s duel, with Powell’s Tyler Feller showing good control through two scoreless innings. Lovell’s Kaleb Snyder singled in the bottom of the second inning, but after advancing to second on a sacrifice, he was picked off in a nice move by Feller and shortstop Jesse Brown.
“We threw backwards a lot last night; we threw a lot of curveballs,” Cates said. “That’s been his [Feller’s] Achilles’ heel all year; his curve has been absolutely terrible. But he started it off early and threw it often and it was going for strikes. He had two or three pitches working for him, and that’s what helped.”
After striking out the side in the top of the third, Schneider helped his own cause in the bottom of the same inning, doubling to centerfield to score the first run of the game. Schneider later scored on a Zane Horrocks single, giving the Mustangs a 2-0 lead.
After a scoreless fourth inning, the Pioneers got their first hit of the game in the top of the fifth on a two-out bunt by Cameron Wentz. Wentz’s single sparked a bit of a two-out rally, creating Powell’s best opportunity to get on the board. A single by Mason Marchant and a walk by Kobe Ostermiller followed, and with the bases loaded, Colin Queen came to the plate with the tying run in scoring position. But after giving up a pair of hits, Schneider bore down, striking out Queen to end the inning and the threat.
“I told the kids early on if the third baseman’s down, drop a bunt down the line,” Cates said. “So Wentz gets on, Marchant singles over the shortstop’s head. It was a good inning for us in the fact that we finally put some pressure on Schneider, made him throw out of the stretch. But then he made some good pitches against arguably my best hitter.”
Showing his earlier RBI double was no fluke, Schneider tripled in the bottom of the fifth, scoring Ethan Price to extend Lovell’s lead to 3-0. The Mustangs would score twice more in the fifth and twice in the sixth to round out the scoring at 7-0.
“There was nothing I could be mad about last night, they did everything pretty good last night,” Cates said. “I think we gave away nine free bases though; it could have been better from that standpoint. And at the plate, we struggled with being ready for the fastball and recognizing the curve early enough to hit it.”
The Pioneers managed four hits over the nine-inning game, with singles by Jesse Brown, Cameron Schmidt, Wentz and Marchant.
On the mound, Feller and Ryley Meyer combined for eight innings, giving up seven runs on nine hits, walking eight and striking out four.
“Ryley’s been throwing real well for us, and I hope he continues to do so,” Cates said.
For the Mustangs, Schneider went 4-4 with two RBIs.
The Pioneers head to Lewistown, Montana, today (Thursday) for a four-day tournament — the biggest road trip of the season for the young team. Cates said his team will take lessons learned the last two weeks and apply them to the weekend.
“I think we’ll be facing some pretty good teams,” Cates said. “Miles City has a couple of pretty big swingers, but I’m not sure how the arms are. I don’t know if we’ll see another Schneider, but I’m hoping if we do, our kids are ready for it now.”
With several players due to miss this weekend’s tournament because of prior commitments, Cates will only be taking 13 players on the trip.
“It’s going to be a lonely bench,” Cates said. “With just 12, maybe 13 guys playing six games over four days, I’m hoping we can keep our pitch counts down. It’s going to be really important to pound the zone and throw as few pitches as possible this tournament.”