Jacob Russell

Third baseman Jacob Russell celebrates with his teammates after hitting a home run in the sixth inning of the championship game against Cheyenne. Outfielder Brad Brooks wrapped Russell in his arms with Ransom Ollie (left) and Michael Bobrowski (right) on either side. It was the first home run of the season for Russell.

The sun gleamed off of the Legion A Championship trophy. As the Douglas Cats and Cheyenne Hawks squared off for the title, there was the trophy, sitting on a folding table right behind home plate. After five games in five days, the Cats fell just short of the title.

The Hawks won the final game 5-4, piling on top of each other on the pitcher’s mound of Nida Field. Even though the team came within a few hits of getting the win and moving forward, the team wasn’t down on themselves. From head coach Zack Andrews all the way down the roster, there was pride. Pride in this team, pride in the season they had, and a knowing feeling that this wasn’t going to be their last chance to claim the State Championship.

“This team plays the game well. This team plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. This team competes in the zone. This team doesn’t give up. This team was, by far, my most enjoyable team to coach,” Andrews said.

On the field, the tournament was the culmination of 41 games for the Cats. The first two games of the A State Tournament were never really in question for the Cats. They took down Wheatland 6-2, with Andres Robles on the mound, and dropped Gillette 9-1 with Carson Selk. The offensive explosion in the game with Gillette was courtesy Jordan Bobrowski who drove in four runs on two singles and a double.

Eight of the team’s nine hitters crossed home plate in the game, with catcher Cy Deluna scoring twice. The first real challenge for them came in the third game—the Cheyenne Hawks. Before the two met in the finale, Bobrowski took the mound and the Cats stayed with their usual lineup.

The game opened with a bang. Literally. Michael Bobrowski took Cheyenne’s third pitch of the game and cracked it over the left field wall for a leadoff home run. As Michael rounded the bases, with his teammates waiting to surround him at home plate, the scoreboard flipped to 1-0, the only time the Cats led in the game. By the time it was over, the score was 6-1 and Douglas took their first loss of the week.

The leadoff home run was one of only two hits for the Cats in the game, the other being a single from Ransom Ollie in the fourth inning. Jordan pitched six innings, walking seven batters and striking out four, giving up only two runs. In the seventh, Andrews turned to Ollie and Jacob Russell in relief. Ollie only got one out, but gave up five hits and three runs in the brief work before Russell came in and closed out the night.

“I don’t know what it is about Cheyenne, but we usually hit really well against teams. Cheyenne just kind of has our number,” Ollie said.

Coming off the pitcher’s duel with the Hawks, the Cats were faced with the complete opposite against Riverton. Douglas took the win over the Raiders 10-8, the highest scoring single game in the 2019 tournament. Playing as the away team, Douglas bat first and took advantage of the opportunity.

They scored three runs in the first inning off a two-run double from Ollie that scored Michael and Robles and an error that allowed Brad Brooks to reach first base and Ollie to score. Another error in the second inning, the second of four that Riverton commit, allowed three more runs to cross the plate. On the mound for Douglas was Cameryn Spence.

Spence picked up the win despite allowing five runs across before giving way to Michael to close out the game. Down two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Riverton had runners on the corners with two outs, their best chance to at least bring the game to a tie. Michael struck out the batter on four pitches, stifling the rally attempt. Riverton went down in order in the seventh to finish off the game.

“My favorite part of the tournament was the challenge we had against Riverton,” Deluna said. “That realization that if we don’t do this it’s over, if we don’t do this we don’t get to the ’ship.”

That led right into the ’ship, the rematch between the Cats and Hawks. An animal kingdom battle taking place in the friendly confines of Nida Field. The game was nothing like their first face-off, with more offense on the Cats’ part. Robles was on the mound, throwing all six innings and striking out two batters.

Douglas took a 3-0 lead into the game’s third inning, already outscoring their total form the last matchup. For the first time, Cheyenne strung together hits and had runners on the corners against Robles with 3-hole hitter Tyler Schlagel at the plate. Schlagel sent Robles’s first offering over the left field fence and just like that, the game was tied at three runs apiece.

When the fifth inning came around, the Cats were down by two and running out of time to mount a comeback. Russell, playing third base, came up to bat having only two hits so far in the tournament. Wasting no time, Russell turned on the first offering and sent it over the wall for his first home run of the state championship tournament and the season.

Russell was mobbed at home plate by his teammates after cutting the Hawks lead down to one in emphatic fashion. After a quick pair of outs, it all came down to the last inning for Douglas. At that point it was either win, and move on to a sudden death final game, or watch Cheyenne claim the title. After a Robles walk, and a pair of outs, the Cats were down to their last chance.

Jordan stepped to the plate as one of the team’s best hitters in tournament play. With Robles taking off for second base, the Cheyenne second baseman bolted to cover the bag, except Jordan knocked the pitch right into the now-vacated space and through to right field.

Robles, the tying run, was at third base for the Cats as Brooks stepped up to bat, his final at-bat as a Cat. Brooks skied the second pitch, just a little too high, letting the Hawks second baseman sidle underneath it for the final out of the game and the state title.

“It really sucks, overall we played really well, there’s just a few things that happened and made it hard to come back,” Ollie said.

They may not have reached the destination they strived for, but the Cats proved along the journey that they could stand up in the face of adversity. The team was sitting near the midway point at 12-18, unsure if they would make it to the tournament they hosted. They finished the year 23-23, ending the season on an 11-5 run.

Part of this change, according to Andrews, came from him ceding some decisions over to his assistant coaches and letting everyone relax and go just play baseball. This was the last game for Deluna and Brooks.

“They’re big players. Brad in the outfield, if anybody got a defensive MVP that’s him. He was running down balls all tournament long,” Andrews said.

For every game of the tournament, and most of the season, Deluna was behind the plate and Brooks waited in center field. Flanked on all sides by younger players, the two had the opportunity to be leaders both on and off the field. According to Andrews, most of the team is made of 15- and 16-year-olds, leaving them with several more years on the team and plenty of chances to grow.

“I had the privilege of trying to show them as much as I could, trying to be that leader. It’s just really awesome to see these kids want that success of a championship so hopefully they get that,” Deluna said.

Seven different Cats took the mound over the five games. Robles, in starting the first and final games, threw 11.2 innings, striking out four batters and finishing with a 4.63 ERA in the week. He finished the year with a team-high 74.1 innings, seven wins and a 5.84 ERA.

Selk and Spence both earned the wins for their starts with Selk having the lowest ERA of all the starters at 1.29. Michael also threw 3.1 innings in relief, striking out four batters and getting saves in both appearances. At the plate, Ollie led the team in nearly every statistical category.

He had a team-high eight hits, two doubles and was tied for the team lead with four walks to go with a .600 on-base percentage. The only other player to walk four times over the week was outfielder Sam Renner. Andrews specifically mentioned Renner as someone he’s looking forward to bringing back next year to see how much he can continue to grow.

Jordan led the Cats offense with seven RBI’s and was in second with seven hits and three stolen bases—second in stolen bases to his brother, who nabbed five bags. It’s easy to hang their heads after a difficult loss in a season where they came just short, but at the end of the day, baseball is not the first priority.

“I think that we’re making men more than we’re making ballplayers and there’s a bigger win than winning a baseball game,” Andrews said.

On the field though, Andrews is giving them until the end of football season before he works to get them back in baseball shape. It’s never too early to get guys back in the batting cage and pitchers upping their velocity.

Anything can happen in a year, but now the Cats are even hungrier to bring the trophy home for good.

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