It was a weekend of weather, big innings, blown leads and bus breakdowns for the Pioneers Legion A baseball team, as Powell finished 1-4 at the Harold Gjerde Tournament in Lewistown, Montana.
Following a stunning 20-10 loss to Miles City to open the tournament Thursday, the Pioneers made it close against the Tri-City Cardinals, losing 8-7 Friday afternoon. Against the Lewistown Redbirds Friday evening, Powell was shut out 7-0, and Saturday’s games were rained out. Sunday began with a loss against the Gallatin Valley Outlaws 15-4, but ended on a high note, with the Pioneers heading home on an 8-5 win against Livingston.
“After that Miles City game, the weekend was just 10-fold better. It was a good weekend,” said Powell manager Joe Cates. “We went in and played like crap, but we turned it around and finished strong. I think it will be a good confidence builder, for our guys to know they can go in and play with good teams. If they throw strikes, they have a chance to win.”
Pioneers 8, Livingston 5
The Pioneers battled back into the win column Sunday afternoon, erasing a 2-0 deficit early against the Livingston Braves to cruise to an 8-5 victory.
Tyler Feller got the start on the hill for Powell, giving up a hit and two runs in two innings of work. Cameron Wentz came on in relief in the third and pitched the rest of the way, giving up three runs on eight hits to pick up the win. Wentz pitched himself out of several sticky situations, striking out five.
“Our ability to never give up really worked well for us in this one,” Cates said. “They were focused on the game, they swung the bats fairly well, they played defense well. The big difference in that game is that we were able to continuously pound the zone on the bump.”
The Braves jumped out to an early lead, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the second inning. Powell answered in the bottom of the third, scoring a pair of runs on a two-out rally to tie the game at 2-2. An infield single by Wentz scored Reece Hackenberg; Wentz would go on to score on a wild pitch.
The Braves retook the lead 3-2 in the top of the fourth, though the lead was short-lived. After Ryley Meyer flew out to begin the bottom of the fourth, Powell’s younger players provided a much-needed spark at the plate, with back-to-back singles by freshmen Noah Blough and Ashton Brewer. Hackenberg, Colin Queen and Jesse Brown singled in succession with each hit plating a run, putting the Pioneers up 5-3.
Wentz struggled on the mound to open the top of the fifth, giving up a double, a single and hitting a batter to load the bases with one out. With the possibility of another big inning staring him in the face, Wentz bore down, getting the next two batters to fly out to end the inning.
“Cameron [Wentz] came in and did really well on the hill, he was throwing strikes,” Cates said. “He was giving our defense a chance to make plays.”
Powell added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth, with Meyer smacking a double to score Garrett Stutzman and pushing the lead to 6-3. Wentz shut down Livingston in the top of the sixth, and the Pioneers added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth, with Blough picking up an RBI on a single.
Livingston scored two more runs in the top of the seventh before Wentz closed the door, preserving the 8-5 win.
The Pioneers pounded out 11 hits on the game, led by Queen, Meyer and Blough each going 2-4 with an RBI.
“This game, the guys were starting to hit the ball harder, hitting it better,” Cates said. “I think our guys were in there just trying to do too much at the beginning of the game, trying to hit the ball hard instead of trusting they could get it done by going smooth and easy. Once they bought into that, that was the difference at the plate.”
Wentz and Feller combined for five runs on nine hits, with Wentz striking out five and Feller two.
“It definitely made the bus ride home a lot better,” Cates said.
Miles City 20, Pioneers 10
Thursday’s opening game against Miles City was one to remember for the Pioneers, though for all the wrong reasons.
The Mavericks’ team bus broke down en route to the tournament, causing a late start to the game.
Miles City then gave up four straight walks to the Pioneers to open the game, walking in the contest’s first run. A hit batsman scored a run, and a single by Meyer scored another, pushing the lead to 3-0. A double by Kobe Ostermiller and a single by Queen added to the total, as did errors in the field, and the Pioneers found themselves with a 9-0 lead after the first.
Wentz started on the mound for Powell, striking out the first batter he faced and holding the Mavericks scoreless in the first. The Pioneers added another run in the top of the second inning and it appeared the rout was on.
“We jump out 10, and we’re rolling,” Cates said. “Cameron Wentz threw a good first inning, he was pounding the zone, throwing strikes, getting guys out. But after the first inning, I don’t know what happened.”
Miles City exploded for a big inning of their own, scoring eight runs in the bottom of the second. After a solid first inning on the mound, Wentz struggled to find the strike zone in the second, walking four batters and giving up seven runs.
“I don’t know if it was lack of focus, or what it was,” Cates said. “All of a sudden he walks one, and is scared to walk another. We walked way too many people, gave up too many free bases. We had a chance to really put them down, but our inability to have that cutthroat mentality really hurt us.”
Jesse Brown was summoned to close out the second inning and seemed to right the ship, holding Miles City scoreless in the third. But the Mavericks weren’t finished, plating another eight runs in the fourth. With Miles City scoring four more runs in the fifth and the Pioneers unable to get anything going at the plate, the game was called due to the mercy rule. The Mavericks scored 20 unanswered runs to win 20-10.
“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Cates said. “Our intensity was terrible, our hustle on and off the field was terrible. It was just a bad-played ball game.”
Powell was led at the plate by Queen, who accounted for two of the Pioneers’ four hits, collecting three RBIs. Meyer and Ostermiller added a hit apiece, with Ostermiller hitting a double with two RBIs.
On the mound, Jesse Brown gave up 13 runs (10 earned) on 12 hits while striking out three in relief.
Tri-County 8, Pioneers 7
Looking to bounce back from Thursday’s debacle against Miles City, the Pioneers played smart baseball against the Tri-City Cardinals on Friday, almost overcoming a six-run deficit late before losing 8-7.
“This was definitely a better game after the Miles City loss,” Cates said. “We had a chance to win it. I think we were just overly aggressive; I sent a guy home when I shouldn’t have. The kids came back and played well. They showed that they can compete with anybody.”
With the Cardinals leading 2-1 in the bottom of the third, Jesse Brown got things started with a stand-up triple. Feller singled to score Brown, tying the game at 2-2.
The Pioneers fell apart defensively in the top of the fifth, giving up six runs on four hits and committing three errors. Hackenberg was brought in to stop the bleeding, but not before the Cardinals had run their lead to 8-2.
Instead of folding, however, Powell responded with a big inning of their own, plating four runs in the bottom of the fourth. Ostermiller scored on a Queen single to cut the lead to 8-3. Then, with the bases loaded, Hackenberg roped a triple to right field, clearing the bases to pull within two at 8-6.
The Pioneers would score once more in the bottom of the sixth, but would get no closer, losing 8-7. Despite the loss, Cates said he was pleased with the effort — a major turnaround in both play and attitude from the Miles City game.
“This game gave them the ability to know that they should be staying in the game,” he said. “We changed some things up, made them sprint on and off the field, just things to keep them in it more.”
The Pioneers are home this week, hosting a doubleheader against Riverton Wednesday at Ed Lynn Memorial Field. Games are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.