The Lovell Mustangs wrapped up a strong finish in the Class A West American Legion Baseball standings by sweeping the Green River Knights Thursday night in Cowley thanks to strong pitching performances by aces Riley Hill and Jeremy Schneider.
Lovell came from behind to edge Green River 4-2 in game one Thursday, then powered past the Knights 6-1 in the nightcap.
The Mustangs then attended the Bolln Wood Bat Memorial Tournament in Douglas over the weekend and played to a 1-3 record, falling to defending state champion Cheyenne 14-1, Riverton 11-1 and Green River 15-5 before stopping Rawlins 8-1.
Game one Thursday saw the Mustangs rally to beat the Green River Knights in a game that saw the home team get plenty of runners on base but struggle to drive them in. Riley Hill was strong on the mound, limiting Green River to four hits and just two runs, one earned, in seven innings of work. He struck out five and walked two.
“We just couldn’t get the big hit drive (baserunners) in,” manager Michael Jameson said. “We couldn’t put the game out of reach, or blow it open.”
A pair of errors led to a Green River run in the top of the first inning, but the Mustangs quickly tied it in the bottom of the frame when Jordan Vasquez was hit by a pitch and scored on a two-out double by Hill.
Hill blanked Green River in the second and third, then gave up a solo home run to Brendan Hopkins in the fourth inning. Meanwhile, the Mustangs had baserunners on in the second, third and fourth but couldn’t push across a run until the fifth. But, except for the solo homer, Hill kept the game close.
“That shows veteran leadership, Riley going out and staying positive,” Jameson said. “He did a good job competing and doing the things he can control. He was able to shake it off (the home run). That was a good hitter who got a good swing on it.”
Dallen Mangus walked to open the bottom of the fifth, and Jess Wambeke singled. With two outs Schneider singled to score Vasquez, who had earlier bunted into a fielder’s choice out, and Hill sent a hard-hit grounder to short, which was booted to plate two runs. Hill then put three more goose eggs on the scoreboard to pick up the win as the Mustangs played solid defense behind him.
Jameson said the Lovell defense buckled down along with their pitcher.
“When you’ve got a guy out there who expects to win and expects solid defense, it definitely gives a guy a little more focus,” he noted.
Lovell out-hit Green River 9-4, getting two hits each from Schneider, Abraham and Ethan Hessenthaler.
The Mustangs wrapped up conference play with a 9-7 record after beating Green River 6-1 in game two Thursday night.
Lovell never trailed in the game, scoring single runs in the first and second, two in the third and two more in the fifth to lead 6-0 before Green River finally managed to score a run off Lovell starter Schneider in the sixth. Schneider pitched the distance, allowing only one hit and one unearned run in seven innings of work. He fanned 11, walked three and hit one batter.
“He just kind of dominated,” Jameson said. “Jeremy’s been kind of frustrated getting his pitch count up in some games. He prides himself in being able to go the distance. Did a good job being efficient and keeping his pitch count down.”
Vasquez singled to open the game and later scored on a wild pitch in the first inning for Lovell’s lone run, although the Mustangs had the bases loaded with no outs. Wambeke doubled with one out in the second and scored on a single by Dawson Forcella.
Lovell again loaded the bases with no outs in the third inning. Wambeke drew a walk to score one run, and a sacrifice fly by Forcella plated the fourth run of the game for the Mustangs. Forcella tripled home two more runs in the fifth for the Mustangs before Green River scored an unearned run in the sixth.
Lovell outhit Green River 7-1 as Forcella finished 2-2 with four RBIs.
“That game was a step in the right direction (for the offense) and was better than it had been,” Jameson said. “We just needed to get Jeremy a couple of runs the way he was shutting them down. We’re still struggling a bit to take advantage of situations (with bases loaded). We were a hit from blowing the game wide open.
“It’s something we talk about — coming up with a couple of base hits to 10-run a team and limit the pitch count. That will be important in the state tournament.”
Turning around and making the long drive to Douglas, the Mustangs had to use mostly younger pitchers over the weekend in the Bolln Wood Bat Tournament, with Trey Dickerson hobbled with a severe leg bruise suffered in the Cody doubleheader on July 11.
Defending state champion Cheyenne battered Lovell pitching for 10 hits and 14 runs in just five innings Friday afternoon as Juan Rivera allowed nine runs (three earned), Forcella two runs and Wyatt Horrocks three runs (two earned), but the Mustangs also made three errors that extended innings.
Cheyenne led 3-1 after three, then exploded for six in the fourth and five in the fifth. Rivera and the Mustangs could have gotten out of the fourth with no damage, but a two-out error extended the inning, after which the runs poured in.
“It’s a matter of keeping focus the whole inning,” Jameson said. “Juan did a good job getting two outs, and it really hurts when an error leads to more runs, especially as shorthanded as we were on the mound. Juan did a good job keeping us in the game.”
The lone Mustang run came in the second when Horrocks doubled and scored on a single by Rivera.
Lovell played Riverton in a non-conference game Saturday morning and fell to the Raiders 11-1 in four innings. Riverton outhit Lovell only 6-4, but Mustang hurlers were plagued by 10 walks. Wambeke started and allowed five hits and seven runs, with seven walks over three innings, and Hessenthaler allowed four more runs, three earned, in one inning of work.
Riley Hill was 2-2 at the plate for the Mustangs with an RBI single in the third.
Although the Mustangs had just swept Green River two days earlier, five Mustang errors and seven walks, plus seven Green River hits, led to some big innings for the Knights, who went on to play for the championship on Sunday. Green River topped Lovell 15-5 Saturday afternoon.
Dallen Mangus got the start on the mound for the Mustangs and allowed 14 runs but just four earned runs as two early errors led to an 11-run fourth by the Knights, who led just 4-3 going into the inning after Schneider crushed a three-run home run in the bottom of the third.
“It was similar to what happened in the Cody game (earlier this year),” Jameson said. “That was by far the most frustrating game in the tournament with mental letdowns and errors. We only had 10 players (nine position players) for the tournament, so we had to use some players in unfamiliar positions.”
Vasquez relieved Mangus and got the final two outs of the fourth. Forcella and Schneider had two hits each to lead the Lovell offensive attack.
Brock Hill took the mound in the regular season finale for the Mustangs Sunday and allowed just one run on three hits and three walks over six innings of work to pick up the win in Lovell’s 8-1 victory over Rawlins. He fanned seven, and the Mustangs made only one error behind him.
“It was nice to have one of our regular guys available and able to pitch,” Jameson said. “Brock pitched well. He was able to pound the (strike) zone and just about doubled his season strikeout total.”
Meanwhile, the Lovell offense banged out 11 hits in their best performance in a while. Riley Hill was 3-4 with four runs batted in, and Schneider was 3-4 with two RBIs. Rivera was 2-3 with one RBI.
After Brock Hill retired the first three batters in order, the Mustangs scored four in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by Schneider, a two-run double by Riley Hill and a wild pitch. They added two more in the third on a solo homer by Schneider (his sixth of the year) and a run-scoring single by Rivera. Two more runs scored in the fourth on a double by Riley Hill.
Sunday’s win was the 200th win in the coaching career of Michael Jameson counting his years coaching the Powell Pioneers and the Lovell Mustangs.
Tournament next week
The Mustangs have a week off as they prepare to host the Class A State American Legion Tournament in Cowley July 26-30. The Mustangs will likely play Wednesday at 7 p.m. against either Gillette or Douglas, Jameson said.
Playing in the tournament will be Cody, Riverton, Lovell, Green River, Cheyenne, Gillette, Douglas and Rawlins.
By David Peck