A pair of familiar foes brought a premature end to the Powell Pioneers’ hopes for a state tournament berth. Losses to Green River and Riverton in last week’s district tournament in Cowley closed out Powell’s season.
“It was definitely not how we wanted to end things,” said Powell manager Joe Cates. “We wanted to go to state.”
Green River 5, Pioneers 3
Thursday’s opening game with Green River (13-27) was a pitcher’s duel for five innings, with the score knotted at 1-1 going into the top of the sixth. But in what became the bane of the Pioneers’ existence this season, the curse of the Big Inning once again reared its ugly head, as the Knights plated four runs in the sixth en route to a 5-3 win.
“That was a very tough loss,” Cates said. “Green River is a team we’ve definitely proven we can beat, and is a team we should beat. It just wasn’t in the cards for us this time around.”
After getting the lead-off batter to fly out to begin the game, Pioneers pitcher Tyler Feller — in his second straight appearance on the mound since returning from a shoulder injury — gave up four straight singles to give the Knights an early 1-0 lead.
Powell answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the third. Back-to-back singles by Kobe Ostermiller and Jesse Brown put a runner in scoring position, then Feller helped his own cause at the plate with a hard single to left. That scored Ostermiller and tied the game at 1-1.
“Tyler [Feller] threw great those first few innings,” Cates said. “It was good to see that; he kept us in the ball game. Those three hits he gave up in the first, I’ve never seen softer hits. It was three infield singles and then a bloop that goes off Jesse [Brown]’s glove. Not much you can do there.”
Feller began showing signs of wear in the top of the sixth, plunking the lead-off hitter and walking two more to load the bases. Cates brought in Mason Marchant in relief of Feller in an attempt to get out of the inning, moving Feller to second base. But a pair of throwing errors, coupled with a pair of timely hits, plated four runs and gave the Knights a 5-1 lead.
“Mason [Marchant] came in with the bases loaded and did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Cates said. “He threw ground balls, and he’s done amazing at that all year long, coming in during tough situations and being able to handle himself. First batter he faces, infield’s in, they roll a ground ball to our shortstop, and we drop the ball at home plate and a run scores.”
The second grounder was to Feller at second base, whose throw to the plate was off the mark.
“I don’t know if it was the heat of the moment, wanting to secure that out, but he [Feller] comes up and fires the ball and misses [Cameron] Schmidt, two runs come around to score,” Cates said. “Then Mason gives up his one hit that scores a run. Take those two errors out of there, and Mason gets out of that inning on two pitches.”
The Pioneers battled back in the bottom of the sixth, with back-to-back singles by Nate Brown and Schmidt to start the inning. With two on and one out, Nate Brown advanced to third on an error, then scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 5-2. With Schmidt on second, Ashton Brewer roped a double to centerfield to score Schmidt, making the game 5-3. That was as close as the Pioneers would get, as the Knights held on for the 5-3 win.
“That was good for us, to fight back like that,” Cates said. “We were just unable to continue that into the seventh.”
Feller was saddled with the loss, giving up four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings of work, striking out four. Marchant and Ryley Meyer combined for one run on three hits in relief.
The Pioneers were strong at the plate, pounding out nine hits, led by Feller’s 2-3, 1 RBI performance, including a double. Brewer added a double and Ostermiller, Jesse Brown, Schmidt, Nate Brown, Colin Queen and Cameron Wentz had a hit apiece.
Riverton 12, Pioneers 2
A win against Riverton (30-16) Friday meant a trip to state for the Pioneers, and Cates had his strongest pitcher on the mound in Colin Queen. The usually reliable Queen had an uncharacteristic off-day, however, spotting the Raiders four runs in the first inning en route to a 12-2 season-ending loss.
“That game definitely didn’t go in our favor,” Cates said. “We struggled a little bit on the mound. Colin [Queen] is kind of a finesse guy, he’s not going to overpower you. He just wasn’t getting what he’s used to getting to his strengths. I think they had his timing pretty early.”
Riverton added a pair of runs in the second, and it was the third before the Pioneers were able to cross the plate. After reaching on a walk to open the top of the third, Ostermiller advanced to second on a grounder by Jesse Brown. Queen then singled to score Ostermiller, making the score 6-1.
Powell would score its second and final run in the top of the fourth, with Meyer singling in Schmidt, who reached on a walk.
Meyer was also brought in in relief of Queen “and did a great job,” Cates said. “He threw 3 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball. He did a very good job.”
Riverton went on to score two more runs in the bottom of the fourth and four in the bottom of the sixth, invoking the mercy rule to end the game 12-2.
“It definitely wasn’t how we wanted to end our season,” Cates said of the loss. “It is what it is. It was a tough one to swallow.”
The pitching tandem of Queen, Meyer, Marchant and Nate Brown combined for 12 runs on 11 hits, with Queen getting the loss. The Pioneers managed just four hits in the contest, led by Queen with a single and an RBI. Jesse Brown, Garrett Stutzman and Meyer finished with a hit apiece.
With his first season at the helm now in the rearview mirror, Cates said it was a good year for the Pioneers, despite what the final record of 8-27 might indicate. Coming off a season last year that saw the Pioneers win just three games, improvement was evident, on and off the field.
“I had fun, I think the kids had fun,” he said. “We played much better baseball this year than we did last year. It was fun to watch, and frustrating to watch at the same time. But a lot of the kids grew — some kids really stepped up, and other kids did exactly what I would expect. It was a good year.”
A large hole will be left to fill next season with the loss of Feller, the lone senior on the roster. Feller’s been an integral part of the Pioneers for years, and Cates said his leadership and contagious spirit will be missed.
“Losing Feller’s gonna suck next year,” Cates said. “That was a bit of a tearjerker after the game, saying goodbye to him. I’ve only been here two years with him, but he’s one of the kids that was a leader last year; he’s a leader this year. He’s the one we’re really going to miss.”
Cates’ younger players proved to be a consistent bright spot for the Pioneers over the course of the season, and he’s excited to watch them develop.
“I’m definitely happy with our young kids,” he said. “I’ll have two seniors this next year, plus there are three or four kids coming up from the C program. I’ve also heard there will probably be around 16 kids moving up next year from the Little League to the C program, which would be amazing.”
If those projected numbers hold, Cates said the Pioneers may be able to run a split squad next season, giving the younger A players and the older C players more experience.
“We’ll see how that all runs — you never know until it’s time to go and you get actual numbers,” he explained. “But I think the majority of the kids are excited to come back. You always get a couple of tough reads, we’ll see how it all works out. But I’m really excited for the next few years, with what we have now and what we have coming up.”
He added that, “I enjoy being around the kids, seeing them come to practice every day and work their butts off, progressing every day, learning every day, getting better every day.”