With just two innings left in the Spearfish Tournament championship game, the Douglas Cats found themselves trailing 8-2 against Wheatland.
From the dugout, manager Travis Mortimore noticed his team’s morale declining. Heads hung low; eyes glazed over in dejection. Mortimore knew the Cats desperately needed a spark.
The literal and figurative question: who would step up to the plate?
Enter Zack Virtue.
Virtue — first baseman and pitcher for Douglas — emerged slowly from the dugout. He drove his cleats into the South Dakota dirt and locked eyes with the Wheatland pitcher. On the second pitch of his at-bat, Virtue launched a home run into the grass behind the left-field wall, plating three runs and cutting the Cats’ deficit in half with just five outs remaining.
“That really picked us up,” Mortimore said. “It helped us see that we could start trusting each other. We picked it up defensively; we picked it up pitching-wise. You could kind of start to see them start believing that they were still in the game. When you’re down by six, you start doubting yourself a little bit, especially as young guys.”
And while the Cats’ championship hopes would still come up just short — falling to Wheatland 9-7 — Mortimore says he’s proud of the camaraderie and fight his players showed.
“All the guys were getting up on the bench and were ready to go. We finished that game the right way. We got more aggressive attacking the ball on flyballs and groundballs. We started to make some really good plays behind our pitchers. It sparked us in every aspect of the game.”
Douglas claimed second place in the tournament, concluding the trip to Spearfish, S.D., with a 3-1 record.
In Thursday’s opening showdown vs. Belle Fouche, it was pitcher Camryn Spence who stole the show, allowing just two runs over six innings and striking out four. The Cats came away 7-5 victors.
“(Belle Fouche) threw their best pitcher at us. But Camryn outlasted him and got the win,” the coach noted.
Stellar outings on the hill from Luis Lepe and Jordan Bobrowski paved the way for Douglas victories on Friday and Saturday, as well. The Cats toppled Rapid City on Friday night, 10-2, and blanked Newcastle, 8-0, the following afternoon.
“I’m a big pitching guy,” explained Mortimore. “So when my guys do as well on the mound as they did this weekend, it’s hard not to be hyped up.”
Next up for Douglas is a June 11-12 trip to Torrington for the Dean Bullock Memorial Tournament. The Legion A Cats are slated for matchups at home against Rawlins June 14 and Casper June 16 before hitting the road again for back-to-back trips across the sate and into Nebraska.