The Douglas Cats were just one bad inning and a bout of poor defensive play away from a dominant weekend of baseball.
At last weekend’s Riverton Tournament, early inning prowess at the plate and potent starting pitching continued to be the Cats’ mantra. That was until the second inning of Sunday night’s championship game against the Lovell Mustangs.
“We learned some things about that game,” coach Zack Andrews said.
Like clockwork, the Cats jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Michael Bobrowski, Cy Deluna and Mason Barker ripped off three consecutive singles to begin the inning, followed by a Ransom Ollie double to make it 3-0 in a hurry. Two batters later, Ollie scored the fourth run of the inning on a Brad Brooks double.
In the second, an uncharacteristic presence took over the Cats. Five walks, two defensive errors and a hit-by-pitch made a clear pathway for 10 Lovell runs. Starting pitcher Sam Renner surrendered four consecutive walks at one point, but allowed just three hits as the Mustangs sent 14 hitters to the plate.
It was a rare inning for a team that had only allowed double digit runs once before Sunday night’s game. The lone occasion came last month during a memorable 17-16 win over the Laramie Rangers. For complete context, Scottsbluff’s six runs in Douglas’ only other loss of the season is the next best offensive performance.
There’s a reason the Cats are sitting pretty at 10-2. They have little trouble scoring runs and a defense bent on clean play. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to mistakes.
“We didn’t get out of that inning like we should’ve,” Andrews said, referring to the second inning of Sunday night’s championship game. “We kept giving them opportunities and things began to pile up. We just a had a tough time staying focused.”
Douglas would cut the lead to 15-10 in the fifth but were unable to hold it as Andrews was forced to stretch his bullpen after a long and grueling weekend.
Andres Robles pitched seven complete innings in Friday’s 13-3 win over the Riverton Rangers junior varsity team. Saturday morning, Kale Shelver threw six gutsy innings in the first of two games with Lovell, picking up a 4-2 win. Later in the day, Bobrowski nearly went the distance as the offense backed him up in a 10-4 win in 6.2 innings of work.
Sitting where they are at the moment, the Cats are in comfortable confines. Sunday night’s game may have slipped away from them, but the atypical second inning meltdown creates a key opportunity for the first place team in A East.
Andrews feels confident in Barker, Shelver and Bobrowski at the top of the starting rotation. The three right-handers account for nearly 52 innings of the 80 innings played thus far. Robles made his first start of the season on Friday and hurled a complete game. So, it conveys the genuine depth of Andrews’ pitching staff, which would’ve featured Barker in the championship game if not for a minor lineup gaffe.
As the Cats prepare to set off on a three-week stretch with the potential to play upwards of 18 games, they’ll have to rely on more innings out of guys like Dylan Case, Caden Morrow and Renner.
sAlong with more opportunities for Friday’s victor, Robles.
“(He’s) a guy that makes teams put the ball in play,” Andrews said about Robles. “He throws strikes, doesn’t walk batters … you know what to expect.”
Douglas’ 10-2 record places them in a position to feel especially confident as they head into the meat of the season. That confidence will allow their lesser worked arms to throw innings while gaining a sense of comfortability.
“Once you get into the heart of the season, you have to rely on more arms,” Andrews said. “When you’re playing on Tuesday and then again on Sunday, you have the luxury to throw your top guys. But in these tournaments, we know we’ll have to go to other arms. Once they get innings and begin to feel more comfortable, they’ll be much better off.”
The Cats played host to the Rawlins Generals last night. This weekend they will travel to Spearfish, South Dakota for a tournament before returning home June 12 for a redemption game with the Scottsbluff Zephyrs.
Next week, they will travel to Green River for another weekend tournament June 15-17.
“Green River will be a good test,” Andrews said. “We just have to get guys some innings and make sure we do a good job of managing our arms. We’re in the thick of it.”