The magic carpet ride that was the 2018 postseason for the Powell Little League Majors All-Stars ended Friday with a 7-1 loss to Gillette, knocking the host team out of the Wyoming State Tournament.
Powell posted a 1-2 record to finish in third place. Defending champion Gillette shook off an opening-round loss to Cody to win four straight games and claim their second straight state title.
“These kids worked hard and were a lot of fun to be around. It was an honor to be a part of their experience,” Powell manager Heath Worstell said of the All-Stars. “We [as a team] did a lot of things that nobody expected us to, and I think we gained a lot of respect from other organizations all over the state.”
The state tournament, hosted by Powell, got off to a promising start Wednesday, with the District 1 champion All-Stars overcoming a 2-0 deficit to down District 2’s Torrington 4-3. A 6-0 stumble Thursday to cross-county rival Cody dropped Powell into the losers bracket against tournament favorite Gillette Friday.
Gillette 7, Powell 1
The victims of a stunning upset to Cody to open the tournament, Gillette hammered Torrington 15-0 on Thursday to set up Friday’s showdown with the host team. With Ethan Welch on the mound, Powell held Gillette scoreless in the first inning, but the visitors opened things up in the second by plating six runs.
“Those kids from Gillette, they can hit the baseball,” Worstell said. “They just happened to be driving the ball where we couldn’t get it. And at the plate, we just could not find the ball. Our last two games, we struggled with our batting. I don’t know if it was nerves getting to the kids, playing in their hometown. Eleven and 12-year-old kids can feel a lot of pressure when they get into this situation.”
Both teams scored a run in the third, the final runs of the game. Welch led off with a single, followed by a double by Jhett Schwahn. Welch would then score on a wild pitch to avoid the shutout. Powell finished the game with six hits, led by a pair of singles by Welch. Jacob Orr, Brock Johnson and Rayce Degraffenreid also had a single each.
Welch took the loss on the mound for Powell, giving up seven runs on seven hits in two innings. Cade Queen pitched four scoreless innings in relief, allowing two hits and striking out four.
After the game, the Powell players received their third-place medals, then gathered as a team to reflect on what they’d accomplished the last few weeks.
“I told them I was proud of them,” an emotional Worstell said. “They have every right to hold their heads high. They’ve accomplished more than anybody expected them to. I told them to just keep plugging away, keep working hard. Regardless of what they do the rest of their lives, if they work hard, good things will come.”
As for what he’ll take away as a manager, Worstell said just being a part of it all was special. The son of a Little League coach himself, Worstell’s experience was made even more special by having his son Dalton on the team.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “My dad coached the All-Star team, oh, this was probably 35 years ago. I thought about him a lot. It [coaching the All-Stars] meant a lot to me.”
As for a favorite memory of the last few weeks he’ll take with him, Worstell said it’s what happens after the games, not during them, that he’ll remember.
“We have certain things that we do to try to keep the kids involved, keep ‘em fired up,” Worstell said. “When we’re in our circle [following the games] and I bring those kids in, and they charge me, and every one of them is jumping on me ... that’s what I’ll remember the most. I won’t forget anything, but that’s what will stick with me.”
Cody 6, Powell 0
A number of factors contributed to Thursday’s loss to Cody, not the least of which was the law of averages. Powell had won the last three meetings of the two teams, including a 6-2 victory in the semifinals of the District 1 tournament a week earlier. Cody figured it was due.
“Anytime you play a team that many times, the odds keep decreasing in your favor,” Worstell said. “Especially when it’s a team like Cody. This one made me the most nervous going in.”
Cody’s pitching held Powell to just three hits in the game, with singles by Orr, Schwahn and Johnson. Powell gave up nine hits in the contest.
“One thing a lot of people probably don’t realize is that the two teams that did defeat us are the ones playing in the championship game,” Worstell said. “These two organizations have probably played a combined 80-90 baseball games this year. We’ve played 12. We put our kids together six weeks ago; these guys put theirs together six months ago.”
“That’s where experience comes in,” Worstell added. “These kids [Cody and Gillette] have been put into these situations all summer and all spring. Then you get our kids who’ve only been playing together for a short time. Powell as a whole has a little bit of a disadvantage when it comes to baseball.”
Powell 4, Torrington 3
In the opening game of the state tournament, Torrington jumped out to an early 2-0 lead as Powell struggled to find its groove.
The All-Stars settled in, however, taking control of the game on the mound and at the plate to advance to the second round with a 4-3 win.
“I felt like maybe we were going to overlook them [Torrington] a little bit,” Worstell said. “I told them after that we can’t play lazy baseball; that can’t happen.”
A hallmark of this team was a never-quit attitude, which paid off against Torrington when the chips were down early.
“They kept their heads in the game and came together as a team,” Worstell said. “They battled back, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Degraffenreid picked up the win on the mound for Powell, shaking off a rough start and continuously pounding the zone. Johnson came on in relief for the sixth inning, striking out the side to end the game.
“Rayce Degraffenreid is one excellent pitcher,” Worstell said. “We’re very proud of him. He’s had the notion to get a little of the mental games going in his head. But we had a pretty good talk with him before the game, telling him to stay in the game, stay focused. We needed him. I’m very proud of him for what he’s done, he’s come a long way. He’s an excellent ball player and a really good kid.”
Powell was slow to get started at the plate, but got things going in the later innings.
“It took us about four innings to get there,” Worstell said. “That pitcher Torrington had threw hard. The kids had to see him a couple of times to get his timing. But once they did, they did.”