Sporting a perfect 4-0 conference record heading into Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Paul J. Wahata Field in Rock Springs, the Evanston Legion AA club was looking to solidify their place atop the AA West.
But when the dust finally settled on the marathon twin bill, the host team sent the Outlaws home with a split, handing the Boys of Post 41 their first conference loss of the season.
Evanston broke open a close 5-3 game in the opener with nine runs in the seventh to cruise to a 14-4 win. Not content to roll over without a fight, the Sand Puppies battled back in game two, taking Evanston to extra innings before winning in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth 6-5.
“We just couldn’t score runs in game two,” said Outlaws manager Chad Thompson. “That’s what it amounted to. They [Rock Springs] just hung around and we couldn’t shake them — give Rock Springs credit, they did their job when they had to.”
The Outlaws don’t play again until next Wednesday, when they welcome Rock Springs back to Ross Kesterson Field for a conference doubleheader. Despite Wednesday’s loss, Evanston is still in the driver’s seat in the AA West; every game counts as the Outlaws head into the home stretch. Thompson said his players will have the weekend off to regroup, then get back at it Monday.
“We’re in a good spot, I think,” Thompson said. “We’re still leading in the West. We just need to take it one game at a time and do our thing. The kids will take the weekend off to recharge their batteries, then come back Monday and go to work for the stretch run.”
Rock Springs 4
Game one of Wednesday’s twin bill between the Outlaws and conference rival Rock Springs began as a pitcher’s duel, with the Sand Puppies holding an early 2-0 lead after two innings.
Evanston battled back with three runs in the top of the third — with the bases loaded and one out, Rock Springs misplayed a Conner Peterson bunt that resulted in two runs and ended with Peterson standing on third. Ryan Fisher singled to score Peterson, giving the Outlaws their first lead of the game at 3-2.
Both teams plated a run in the fifth, and Evanston pushed its lead to 5-3 with another run in the sixth. Heading into the top of the seventh, the Outlaws finally found themselves on the right side of a big innings, crossing the plate nine times to blow the game open. RBI singles by Casey Periman, Fisher and Jagger Mitchell highlighted what turned out to be a textbook example of how to play small ball.
“We would have liked to see that happen a little quicker, but that’s the game,” Thompson said of his team’s late-inning output. “We asked guys to lay bunts down, and they executed several times. We were able to do what we needed there.”
Lefty Gus Allred picked up his fifth win of the season for the Outlaws, giving up three runs on three hits (zero earned) and striking out 10 in six innings of work.
“Gus was throwing well,” Thompson said.
Caysen Smith pitched an inning in relief, giving up one run on one hit.
The Outlaws pounded out 10 hits in the contest, led by multi-hit games from Fisher and Periman. Fisher went 3-for-4 with 3 RBIs and the team’s only stolen base; Periman was 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Allred helped his cause at the plate with a pair of hits and a run scored, while Reid Gross, Peterson, Mitchell and Clayton Moyles rounded out the hitting with one apiece. Mitchell drove in a pair of runs, while Moyles, Peterson and Gross each drove in one.
“Rock Springs pitcher Dylan Johnson pitched well — he kept us off balance,” Thompson said. “We were finally able to string some things together in that seventh inning.”
Rock Springs 6,
Game two of Wednesday’s doubleheader was an extra-inning grind for both teams, clocking in at nearly four hours and guaranteeing a Thursday morning return home for teams and fans alike.
The Outlaws got off to a quick start, plating three runs in the first inning to take an early 3-0 lead. But Rock Springs rallied late, and scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to hand Evanston its first conference loss of the season, 6-5.
“We came right out and scored three runs, and we’re thinking, ‘OK, here we go, we’re feeling good,’” Thompson said. “But then we kept putting zeros up. You let a team stick around, and they start getting confidence, and that’s what happens.”
RBI singles by Ryan Fisher and Clayton Moyles and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Gus Allred that flirted with leaving the yard gave the Outlaws a 3-0 lead after one.
Rock Springs answered with a run in the second and two in the fifth to bring the game back to even at 3-3; neither team would score again until the ninth inning. In the top of the ninth, the Outlaws finally broke the stalemate when Reid Gross scored from third on a wild pitch to make it 4-3. Conner Peterson then scored what the Outlaws hoped would be an insurance run off a Jagger Mitchell single.
Down 5-3 in the bottom of the ninth, the Sand Puppies quickly loaded the bases against relief pitcher Clayton Moyles. A two-run double tied the game at 5-5, and with two on and one out, Rock Springs’ Parker Ross ended the game in dramatic fashion with a walk-off single.
“It’s a hard thing when you’re just not stringing things together,” Thompson said. “You just try to keep them focused on the goal, especially when you have a game like this that turns into a four-hour affair.”
Caysen Smith got the nod at pitcher for the Outlaws, giving up three runs on three hits (one earned) and striking out 10 in four and a third innings. Fisher pitched three innings of hitless ball in relief, striking out five; Moyles was saddled with the loss, giving up three earned runs on three hits.
Fisher and Mitchell combined for six of the Outlaws’ 10 hits in the contest with three each; Reid Gross went 2-for-4 and scored twice. Moyles and Smith tallied a hit apiece.