After flying out to the shortstop in his third at-bat, Jesse Brown immediately apologized to his Pioneers teammates as he jogged back to the dugout. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the fifth, the young shortstop was heaping blame on himself for not getting something started.
“Sorry guys, I just can’t hit today,” he said. “That’s my fault.”
Turns out he needn’t have worried.
In a game that saw three late lead changes, 24 combined hits and a walk-off bunt to score the winning run, the Powell Pioneers Legion A baseball team (2-6, 7-24) finally outlasted the visiting Green River Knights (2-5, 10-23) 7-6 in extra innings to win their final home game of the season. A Jesse Brown single in the bottom of the 10th would prove instrumental, as he would go on to score the winning run, erasing any need for an apology.
The contest snapped a skid that saw the Pioneers lose five of their last six games, and gives the team some momentum heading into district play next week.
“That was a much-needed win right there,” said Powell manager Joe Cates. “The kids were able to stay in the ball game mentally, and found the ability to not do things right and still find a way to win it.”
The Pioneers overcame the 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning to tie the game. After briefly taking the lead 4-3 in the eighth, the Pioneers would swap leads again in the ninth and top of the 10th before Cameron Schmidt’s bases-loaded sacrifice bunt scored Jesse Brown on the game-winner.
Colin Queen got knocked around early on the hill for the Pioneers, but settled in for a solid outing, giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits and striking out five.
“Colin threw well,” Cates said. “It was another outing where he struggled a little bit as far as finding the strike zone. But he hung in there and started throwing strikes.”
Queen also helped his cause at the plate, collecting two hits and two RBIs on the night.
“He’s [Queen] what you would call ‘effectively wild,’” Cates said. “He’s up in the zone, missing in the dirt. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he was able to work his butt off and compete, find the zone when he needed to and get the job done.”
Nate Brown pitched four strong innings in relief to pick up the win, giving up three runs on eight hits and striking out two.
“Nate [Brown] came in and threw great,” Cates said. “He pounded the zone, threw strikes, got ahead of guys. He had one bad inning where he walked in the tying run, but things like that are going to happen. ... He took a step off the mound and recuperated and finished what he needed to do.”
After a scoreless first inning by both clubs, the Knights plated a pair of runs in the top of the second to take an early 2-0 lead. The Pioneers answered with a run of their own in the bottom of the second, with Garrett Stutzman smacking a double to centerfield to score Schmidt and make it 2-1.
Scoreless for the next two innings, Green River added to its lead with a run in the top of the fifth to make it 3-1. The Knights then hit three straight singles to load the bases with just one out in the seventh, threatening to blow the game open. But Reece Hackenberg turned a nice double play to end the threat and leave the inning unscathed.
“That was awesome,” Cates said. After being brought on in relief, Nate Brown “just did his job, got the groundout, and then the next grounder was a tailor-made double play,” Cates said. “Right after that play, [assistant coach] Tyler England and I looked at each other and kind of laughed, like, ‘Holy crap, something we did actually worked — we made the right call this time.’”
Mason Marchant led off the bottom of the seventh for Powell with a single, and advanced to second on a groundout by Hackenberg. Kobe Ostermiller singled to move Marchant to third, then promptly stole second, putting two runners in scoring position for Queen. Queen was up to the task, roping a single to left and scoring Marchant and Ostermiller to tie the game at 3.
The Pioneers took their first lead of the game in the bottom of the eighth. Schmidt singled to start the inning, eventually reaching third on a Green River error and a sacrifice by Ashton Brewer. Marchant’s sacrifice bunt was misplayed by the third baseman. That scored Schmidt and gave Powell a short-lived 4-3 lead.
Green River re-took the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the ninth, making the score 5-4. The Pioneers loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth through a series of miscues by the Knights and a single by Schmidt, then Jesse Brown scored on a bases-loaded walk to send the game into extra innings.
The Knights once again took the lead with a run in the top of the 10th to make the score 6-5. Ostermiller reached on an error in the bottom of the 10th, bringing up Jesse Brown, who represented the winning run. Brown smacked a sharp single to left, followed by a walk to Queen to load the bases. Nate Brown bunted into a fielder’s choice and was able to reach first, scoring Ostermiller to tie the game 6-6.
With one out and the bases loaded, Schmidt stepped into the box with a chance to end the game. Having hit the ball well in his previous at-bats, the Knights may have been expecting Schmidt to swing away. But with Jesse Brown already moving as the pitcher went into the stretch, Schmidt laid down a perfect bunt along the third base line, scoring Brown and giving the Pioneers a hard-fought 7-6 win.
“The inning before, I was going to bunt Brewer, try to squeeze a run in,” Cates said. “But I have this weird thing about bunting with the bases loaded: I don’t like to do it, because it’s just a force play at home. [With] Cameron Schmidt at the plate, I know he could put the ball in the air, but we decided to try something different. I gave him the squeeze and told him to get it done. ... If there’d been nobody on base, he’d have reached first, because it was a perfect bunt.”
The Pioneers finished the game with nine hits, led by Schmidt’s 3-5, one RBI performance. Queen followed with two hits to go along with two RBIs. Ostermiller, Jesse Brown, Stutzman and Marchant each had a hit in the win, with Stutzman and Marchant credited with an RBI. All four hits jump-started a productive inning for the Pioneers.
“Our at-bats were actually OK,” Cates said. “But I think this is the first time I can really say that pitching was our best asset. ... The best outcome [for the game] was the kids realizing what situation they were in and rising to the occasion.”
The Pioneers clinched fourth place in conference with the win over Green River, and concludes its regular season Friday at Cody (7-0, 44-8). The district tournament begins next week in Lovell, and Cates said he’s hoping to get the injured Tyler Feller a little playing time against Cody to gauge his progress.
“I’m going to get everyone some work while I can,” Cates said. “I’d really like to get Tyler Feller in the ball game. He’s doing OK, he’s thrown a couple of flat grounds for us. The kid works his butt off; it’s just a matter if that shoulder is ready to go or not.”