In the first meeting between the Powell Pioneers and Casper earlier this season, the Drillers capitalized on the curse of the “Big Inning” and scored 11 runs in the seventh to blow open what had been a close contest. Unable to rally, the Pioneers were saddled with a 16-3 loss.
Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s a different story: Powell trounced Casper on the road 11-4 Friday to extend the team’s win streak to three. For first-year Pioneers manager Joe Cates, streaks haven’t happened often in his brief time at the helm, but it’s something he could definitely get used to.
“This is the first winning streak we’ve been on since I’ve been here,” he said, chuckling. “We’re playing well.”
Casper was a team Cates was confident his young club could beat, despite the score of the previous meeting. Going into that disastrous seventh inning on June 8, Powell only trailed 5-3, and was hitting the ball well.
“First time we played them, we gave them a 10-spot, and it’s hard to rebound from that,” Cates said. “This time out, the [Powell] kids came out in the first inning and put up a run, and we just continued adding to that number. All of a sudden, it’s 4-1, and we just kept putting pressure on their defense and put the ball in play.”
Fresh off an impressive win against Green River the previous weekend, Colin Queen once again got the start on the hill for the Pioneers.
“Colin Queen threw 101 pitches, and threw very well,” Cates said.
Defensively, Cates said the Pioneers continue to improve with each game, and players are beginning to settle in to their positions. Powell committed two errors against Casper, but neither had an effect on the game.
“The guys played very well in the field,” Cates said. “Guys are getting comfortable where they’re at, and making smart decisions with their throws. Jesse [Brown] had a pretty good game at shortstop; Kobe Ostermiller had a great game in centerfield.”
Cates and his staff had been struggling to find the right fit in center on days where Queen comes in to pitch, and think they may have found the answer in Ostermiller.
“We’ve been curious as to who’s going to be able to step up and play centerfield when Colin’s pitching, and Kobe [Ostermiller] has really stepped up,” Cates said. “He made two amazing catches [against Casper], over his right shoulder for a ball, then over his left shoulder for another ball. Two well-struck balls, and he made it look easy out there. That was nice to see.”
Ashton Brewer also seems to be finding a home at first base, earning the trust of his coach in recent games.
“We were unsure about him [Brewer] at first, but he’s just found a way to do everything the right way,” Cates said.
The bottom of the Pioneers’ lineup continues to get the job done at the plate, with players like Cameron Wentz, Zane Cordes and Ostermiller all contributing to the effort.
“We swung the bats pretty well,” Cates said. “We didn’t crush the ball by any means, but we eliminated a lot of the strikeouts. We were running and stealing, putting the ball on the ground. We were making them make plays; we kind of beat them up that way.”
“Our young kids have really been stepping up, swinging the bat well,” the manager said.
The Pioneers’ bunting game was also on point, as five of the six bunts they attempted resulted in a man on base.
“Being able to do the small things the right way, putting pressure on their defense and making them make mistakes was key,” he said. “And then we capitalized on those mistakes.”
The three-game win streak was on the line Monday in a doubleheader against visiting Lovell. The Mustangs won the first contest between the two rivals 7-0, behind a lights-out performance on the hill from ace Jeremy Schneider. Regardless of the outcome of Monday’s games, Cates said the Pioneers are simply playing with confidence — something that was missing to begin the season.
“I think they are starting to buy in a little bit better and better,” Cates said of his Pioneers squad. “Not just in my concept, but buying into the fact that they have the ability to win ball games, that they’re good enough to win. Buying into that concept is making a big difference, they’re trusting that they can win.”
“I’m hoping it continues to only get better,” Cates added. “We’ll see how it goes.”