The roller-coaster season of the Powell Pioneers Legion A baseball team continued in earnest over the weekend, as the club finished 1-3 in the 2018 Stanaway Wood Bat Tournament in Billings.
The highlight of the weekend for Powell was a 4-3 nailbiter against the Sheridan Jets on Friday — giving the Pioneers their lone win in the tourney and representing the team’s only competitive contest.
“It wasn’t the best weekend for us, that’s for sure,” said Powell manager Joe Cates. “We’re running out of time to make things happen.”
The remaining three games were ones the young Pioneers would just as soon forget, victims of the mercy rule against Lovell, Billings’ Emmanuel Halos and the Emmanuel Halos split squad.
“We gotta take care of our lack of focus,” Cates said. “This team can win; they just need to keep working.”
Pioneers 4, Sherdan 3
Quietly emerging as his club’s ace on the mound, Colin Queen had a solid outing against the Jets, giving up three runs on three hits and striking out seven in 6 2/3 innings of work.
“Colin [Queen] threw fairly well,” Cates said. “The plate umpire had a frustrating strike zone. He’d give you a pitch down, then it wouldn’t be there the next time Colin threw it. Not a lot of consistency. Colin had to throw a lot of pitches around the middle of the plate just to get it called a strike. But he did a good job there.”
The Pioneers had their bats working early, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the first to take a 2-0 lead. Batting in the leadoff spot, Kobe Ostermiller opened the game with a triple to center off Sheridan starter Luke Keller. After a fly-out by Nate Brown in the next at-bat, Queen singled to right field to score Ostermiller for the first run of the game.
“Kobe [Ostermiller] is swinging it great,” Cates said of his leadoff hitter. “He’s getting the bat on the ball, he’s having competitive at-bats. And with his speed, if he’s putting the bat on the ball, there’s a chance he’s getting on base.”
After a Cameron Schmidt strikeout, Jesse Brown doubled to score Queen all the way from first to take a 2-0 lead. Sheridan plated a run in the bottom of the first to halve the Pioneers lead at 2-1.
Walks by Landon Sessions and Cameron Wentz opened the top of the second. They advanced to second and third with two outs, then Nate Brown singled, scoring Sessions and Wentz and giving the Pioneers a 4-1 lead. With Sheridan held scoreless in the bottom of the second, the game settled into a pitcher’s duel between Queen and Keller. Sheridan would plate a run in the third and again in the fifth, but would get no closer, as Queen shut the door on a 4-3 win.
Despite scattering seven hits over seven innings, Cates wasn’t pleased with his team’s at-bats.
“We’re still watching too many first pitches go by,” he said.
Ostermiller and Jesse Brown recorded multi-hit games for the Pioneers, each finishing 2-4, with an RBI by Jesse Brown. Nate Brown and Queen had a hit apiece, with Nate Brown knocking in a pair of runs and Queen finishing with one RBI. Wentz rounded out the hitting for the Pioneers with a hit and a run scored.
Queen got the win on the hill for Powell, pitching a complete game three-hitter and striking out seven, giving up four walks and one earned run. Keller took the loss for Sheridan, allowing four runs on seven hits and striking out eight.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was a win, and the Pioneers will take it.
“It’s not very often where we score four runs and it’s enough to win,” Cates said.
Lovell 14, Powell 1
The Mustangs paid a visit to Powell earlier in the week, sweeping a doubleheader capped off by a 21-4 rout of the Pioneers.
The two teams met again Thursday, opening the Stanaway Wood Bat Tournament with similar results, with Lovell cruising to a 14-1 win. Reece Hackenberg got the start on the hill for the Pioneers, but struggled to find the strike zone.
“It’s frustrating, but at the same time we had a chance to get Reece a couple of innings,” Cates said. “The game gave me an opportunity to move some guys around, like Noah Blough at second base, just to get an idea of where guys are comfortable playing.”
Halos 12, Pioneers 2
Ryley Meyer got the start on the hill for the Pioneers on Saturday against the Billings Halos. After giving up a single to begin the game, Meyer shut the Halos down in order for a scoreless first inning.
The wheels came off in the second, however, as Billings plated five runs to blow the game open.
Meyer walked the first batter of the inning and plunked the second, setting the stage for an RBI single by Bryant Farnsworth. That was followed by a Max Wohlgenant triple that scored two, and the Halos were off and running, scoring one in the third, three in the fourth, two in the fifth and one in the sixth.
“Minus a couple of kids, this was the same team we beat at our place,” said a frustrated Cates. “We’re capable of winning, but we gave up six errors, eight walks, two hit-batters and 11 hits. We gave up 27 total bases, and only 11 of them were hits. Our inablity to keep guys off the bases without earning it was a struggle.”
The Pioneers finally crossed the plate in the top of the fourth, when a Mason Marchant double scored Hackenberg, who had reached on a walk. Powell plated one more run in the fifth, after walks were issued to Queen and Nate Brown. With two on and one out, Cameron Schmidt hit into a fielder’s choice, scoring Queen from second. That would end the scoring for the Pioneers on the game.
The Pioneers finished with six hits in the contest, led by Marchant’s RBI double. Nate Brown, Ostermiller, Zane Cordes, Queen and Ashton Brewer each had a single, with Schmidt credited with an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
On the mound, Meyer, Jesse Brown and Landon Sessions combined to allow 12 runs on 12 hits, 10 earned. The pitchers didn’t get much help behind them, as Powell finished with 10 errors on the game; walks and hit batsmen were also an issue.
Halos Split Squad 11, Pioneers 1
Sunday’s game against the Halos Split Squad lasted just five innings before the curtain closed on the weekend for the Pioneers.
Cameron Wentz got the start for Powell, giving up seven runs on seven hits in just 1 2/3 innings of work. The Halos scored two runs in the first inning, five in the second and four in the fifth, finishing with nine hits on the game.
The Pioneers avoided the shutout, plating a run in the third on a bases-loaded walk by Wentz. Powell finished with just two hits — one each by Ostermiller and Queen. Cates said his hitters struggled with adjusting to a slower pitcher than they’re used to in the Halos’ Riley Farnsworth.
“The kid [Farnsworth] wasn’t throwing that slow, but he was throwing slower than what we’ve seen,” he said. “But he did a good job. He threw his fastball for strikes, and he was doing his job as far as getting guys out.”
On the mound, Marchant and Landon Sessions came on in relief, with Marchant giving up four runs on two hits and walking four.
As the season winds down, Cates said the same problem that plagued the Pioneers at the start of the season continues to be an issue with just two weeks left in the season: Consistent pitching.
“We don’t have time to do a ton of bullpen work,” he said. “But we have the kids play catch every day. We’ve talked to them about staying focused, working on off-speed pitches when they’re playing catch. ... It’s really hard for me to tell them, ‘Hey, you have a 30-pitch bullpen tomorrow,’ when they throw every other day. It makes it difficult to throw bullpens over and over.”
Following Sunday’s loss to the Halos Split Squad, the Pioneers gathered for an impromptu practice when they got back to Powell.
“Each kid took about 70-80 ground balls,” Cates said. “We took all six of our buckets and put all the balls in one big bin. We gave each kid an empty bucket, and we hit them ground balls until their buckets were full. We had three groups of four or five kids, we had one group fielding, one group hitting wiffle balls, one hitting off the tee in the cage.”
With a doubleheader scheduled for tonight (Tuesday) at home against Green River, Cates said the team needs to buld some positive momentum before heading into district next week.
“I’m expecting to win,” Cates said of tonight’s game. He believes a victory would clinch the No. 4 seed for the Pioneers, putting them against either Green River or Casper in the first game of the regional qualifier.