“This is where we've played to be all year,” said Pioneer Coach Mike Jameson, whose team carries a 37-12-2 record and the No. 1 seed from the Northwest Conference into the tournament. “We wanted to set ourselves up for a good seed …
Defending district champs eye repeatThrow strikes. Play solid defense. Wait for the big inning. On paper, Powell's strategy for the start of the American Legion baseball post-season seems fairly straight-forward. The defending 2009 Class A state champions will begin pursuit of their title defense at 1 p.m. on Thursday when they face the Sheridan Troopers in their North District tournament opener in Cody.
“This is where we've played to be all year,” said Pioneer Coach Mike Jameson, whose team carries a 37-12-2 record and the No. 1 seed from the Northwest Conference into the tournament. “We wanted to set ourselves up for a good seed here and to try and win the district title.”
In reality though, a district title is really a secondary goal for the weekend. Powell, like the other seven teams that will compete in Cody, will be looking to finish among the top four teams. Doing so will see the Pioneers earn a spot in the following week's state tournament in Sheridan.
“You want to win the title, that's for sure,” said Jameson. “But the key is just getting in that top four so that you can go to state and do your damage there. That's the one that really counts.”
The Pioneers are armed to do plenty of damage. The 2009 edition of Powell baseball averaged 9.1 runs per contest. Heading into Thursday's opener, this year's Pioneers are lighting up the scoreboard to the tune of more than 10 runs per game, despite facing arguably tougher competition.
Powell's standard starting nine are hitting the ball at a .430 clip. Again, it is a figure that represents an increase over the previous year.
“We're definitely a team that should put some runs on the board,” Jameson said. “The kids put a lot of pride into hitting the ball and getting it in play. We've got some guys that are really picking the right time of the year to peak.”
Among those players is the Pioneers' Josh Cragoe. After beginning the year in a horrific slump — Cragoe recorded just eight hits in his first 40 at-bats during the summer — the versatile member of the Pioneers' lineup has spent the last two-thirds of the season hitting nearly .500 at the dish, including a 5-for-8 performance in the Pioneers' final doubleheader.
Four of those five hits went for extra bases as he lifted his season batting average to .396.
“Josh worked through that slump early on,” said Jameson. “We knew the kind of hitter he was as a 16-year-old, so we were confident that he'd come around. He's come on strong in the second half of the season.”
While Cragoe has hit nearly .500 since June 1, two members of the Pioneers' batting order — Scotty Jameson and Grant Geiser —have hit the baseball more than half of the times they've stepped up to home plate this season. The pair of returning all-state selections have combined for 17 home runs and 138 RBIs. Jameson carries a .510 batting average to Cody. Geiser heads west flirting with the almost unheard-of .600 mark, presently swinging the stick at a .584 clip.
Team home run leader Colter Bostick (.427) and lead-off hitter Tyler England (.429) also open district tournament play batting better than .400.
Perhaps even more of a cause for concern among Pioneer opponents this weekend should be the fact that the tournament takes place at the site of Powell's greatest offensive accomplishment this season, a state-best 32-run outburst against Northwest Conference runner-up Cody back on June 29.
In spite of the gaudy numbers, the Pioneers have cause for concern as they eye their Thursday opponent. In four games against Sheridan this season, the team has been held below its scoring average in three of the contests.
The Troopers also own one victory over Powell this season.
“Every game at this stage is going to be a dogfight,” said Mike Jameson. “There aren't going to be any gimme games. Everyone's going to be playing to win and everyone is going to be coming at us. We have that bulls-eye after last season.”
A victory in Thursday's tournament opener would advance Powell to a 4 p.m. Friday game against the winner of Thursday's Jackson-Casper tournament opener. A Pioneer loss on Thursday sends the team to a 10 a.m. date against the loser of that same Jackson-Casper pairing.