The season-long drought against the state champion Cody Cubs continued with two more losses to the Park County rivals. Sunday afternoon’s 15-1 loss to Cody in the championship game was the eighth and final defeat the Cubs handed Powell this season.
Powell manager Jason Borders felt a mix of disappointment and pride following the season’s end.
“I believed all year we could beat Cody,” Borders said. “I also said all year long Cody is the team to beat. I think they could have been competitive at double-A this year.”
Getting beat soundly by your rival is a hard pill to swallow, but Borders tried to maintain a positive perspective on the season.
“You got to look at it on the bright side,” he said. “If you asked me three weeks ago I wasn’t even sure we’d make it to state. So I’m definitely proud of these guys as far as what they accomplished.
“We were a good baseball team. It just took the whole season to prove it.”
Powell finished the season 21-28 but a strong postseason run propelled the team to the North’s two-seed and eventually a runner-up finish at state.
Hayden Cragoe, who hadn’t thrown a single pitch all season due to a lingering shoulder injury, started the title game for the Pioneers.
The right-hander still had his velocity but struggled with command as he reacquainted himself with pitching.
“Sometimes that works,” Borders said of Cragoe’s wildness. “Even if he’s a little wild they’re not going to be able to dig in.”
Cragoe walked six and hit two batters to go with seven hits, four strikeouts and 13 runs (four earned) in five and two-thirds innings.
“He hadn’t thrown a bullpen all year,” Borders said. “But we’re at that point with Cody, they’ve seen everybody else we had and beaten everybody else we had.”
Cody jumped on the Pioneers early.
A hit batter, an error by right fielder Teagan Cordes and a Cragoe walk loaded the bases for the Cubs, who then took advantage of a passed ball and wild pitch to score the first two runs of the game.
Cody added one more in the second and went quietly in the third before scoring three more runs in a controversial fourth inning.
The first Cubs’ batter hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield that both second baseman Matt Sweet and first baseman Bryce Wright went for. Sweet fielded the grounder and threw to Wright, who was a couple steps removed from first base.
Wright caught the ball and appeared to stomp on the bag before the runner but the umpire called the Cub safe. Wright raised his arms in disbelief and Borders stepped out to argue the call but Cody had its leadoff man on.
Borders said he thought Wright stepped on the bag and then removed it quickly to avoid colliding with the runner.
Cragoe struck out the next batter followed by a groundout to get what would have been the inning’s second and third outs. But he issued a walk and then allowed a single that brought home another Cubs’ run.
Cody would go on to score three runs in the fourth, including one on a play at the plate in which Powell catcher Jared Wantulok appeared to tag the sliding Cody runner. But the home plate umpire said he missed the tag and the runner was safe.
Borders came out to argue the call but said later Wantulok probably missed the tag and he wanted to argue about Wright’s play and an inconsistent strike zone.
“Hayden wasn’t getting any corners,” Borders said.
The umpires weren’t to blame for Powell’s lack of offense, however. The Pioneers managed only five hits in seven innings.
Cory Heny was 2-for-3 with an RBI and stolen base. Wantulok singled and scored Powell’s only run in the third inning.
Wright singled and walked and Brendon Phister, who was batting leadoff in place of Zander Andreasen, singled and walked with a stolen base. Phister was also caught stealing once.
Borders said Powell’s lineup missed Andreasen, who does not play on Sundays for religious reasons, nor does his brother Ezra.
“It takes a .400 hitter out of our lineup, that’s huge,” Borders said. “He’s usually the guy that gets things going.”
Sunday’s title game — which would have been the first in a two-game series had Powell won — was the Pioneers’ second contest of the day.
Powell beat Laramie 8-5 for the second time in the tournament Sunday morning to advance to the finals. The Pioneers won despite committing eight errors.
“There’s times you can get away with it against some teams,” Borders said.
Laramie looked in control early but Powell eventually found the answers.
Grady Sanders hit a two-run double in the fifth inning to tie the game at 5-5. Cragoe took a bases-loaded walk in the sixth to drive in the winning run and Wright followed with a two-run single for a little insurance.
Cordes was 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Heny was 2-for-4 with a double, run and RBI.
Matt Brown threw five and one-third innings and allowed five runs, though only one earned. He gave up seven hits, a walk and struck out five.
Ty Whiteman, who had started Thursday’s tournament-opener, relieved Brown and allowed just one hit over the final three and two-thirds innings to prevent Laramie’s comeback chances.
The win eliminated Laramie and gave Powell yet another shot at the Cubs, who beat them the day before in the winners’ bracket semifinals.
Cody won 11-2 Saturday evening for its seventh win over Powell this season. Powell was held to just four hits this time.
Heny was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Cragoe was 1-for-3 with a run and Cordes hit a pinch-hit single that loaded the bases but led to no runs in the eighth inning.
Carson Asher, who showed flashes of promise in a relief appearance against Cody during the North District Tournament, was hit hard at state. He gave up eight earned runs on 10 hits and three walks with two strikeouts.
Wright finished the game and allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits, two walks and three strikeouts.
The Pioneers fared better during the week than the weekend.
A back-and-forth 9-7 win over Green River Friday pushed Powell into the latter stages of the winners’ bracket.
Powell committed six errors but was able to overcome its porous defense with 13 hits.
Cragoe was 4-for-5 with two triples, two RBIs and two runs scored. Heny was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. Wright was 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. Asher was 2-for-3 with a run. Brown was 1-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
Heny made his only pitching appearance of the tournament against Green River. None of the six runs Green River scored on him were earned as he allowed seven hits and three walks with four strikeouts in six and two-thirds innings.
Powell’s first win of the tournament was almost identical to its last.
Whiteman pitched a complete game and Heny was 3-for-4 with a RBI and two runs scored in Thursday’s 8-5 win over Laramie.
Cragoe was 1-for-2 with two walks, two RBIs, a run and two stolen bases.
Wright, Sanders and Phister, who also stole two bags, each hit a single.
Just two of the Rangers’ five runs were earned as Whiteman allowed nine hits and two walks while striking out seven.
Borders said he first began coaching this group of players five years ago at the Little League level.
“I’ve had these guys since they were 13,” Borders said. “For them to go where they were as 13-year-olds to where they are as 18-years-old, I can’t say enough about them.”