Last night’s finish between the Pioneers and the Sodbusters basically summed up how the Pios 2020 season has gone so far… dissatisfying.
Down by two in the bottom of the tenth, Brady Lavoie hit a double with Luis Alcantara on second to lead off the inning, which led to one of the most unreal double plays you will ever see in the sport of baseball. Hastings would wind up winning the game 9-7 on the back of one of the most dynamic pitchers in the Expedition League in Jake Bigham.
Entering what has the feel of a must win home stand against a team they are trying to chase near the top of the Clark Division, Western Nebraska got cookin with the bats early. Nate Zyzda, who came into Tuesday night’s game with a 7.20 ERA in 10 innings pitched against the Pioneers this season, continued to find the barrel of the Pios lineup. In the second inning, Sam Hillyer started it off with a double that was duplicated two batters later when he was knocked in by a Brady Lavoie extra base hit. Later in the inning the offense was able to load the bases for the lead off man Cody Kehl, who had his ball club playing station to station with an RBI single. The last run of the inning came from the next guy in the lineup in Tyler Baca who hit a sacrifice fly to score Jaxon Hotta.
The gun show still had not started yet for the Western Nebraska offense until the next inning. After the Busters got one in the top half of the third, the big boppers in Trevor Mattson and Sam Hillyer answered the opposing teams run and then added one more for good measure. Mattson started the inning with a double leading Hillyer to hit a mountainous home run to put his team up 5-1. The Pios lineup even matched the Hastings bats again in the fourth after the Sodbusters cut the Western lead to two with two runs of their own from a Thomas Gavello sacrifice fly and an error on second baseman Wyatt Anderson.
Pios starting pitcher, Jace Hansen, finished his night giving up four runs with four strikeouts in four innings worked, while Zyzda once again fell dismally to Western allowing seven runs over three innings. Almost into the second half of the ballgame the Pioneers were up 7-4 with a bullpen that has been steaming coming in, adding that to the Pioneers hot bats themselves, everything was looking up for a team in desperate need for a victory. If you have watched the Pioneers a lot though this year, you will know that you must wait till the end.
An error in the eighth for the Pioneers aided a Sodbusters late comeback. After already cutting the Western Nebraska lead to two in the innig prior, Harold Baez came in for relief of Carson Cody to potentially get the six out save. After Schmidt scored to begin the inning on a wild pitch, that led the way for Casey Burnham to enter the box. Burnham, who’s average has dipped under .300, got back to his usual ways with already two hits coming into the at-bat. The Sodbusters nine-hole hitter placed a blooper towards center fielder Tyler Baca that looked like it was going to be easily caught. Whether he lost it in the Gering night or just didn’t want to risk the ball getting by him, Baca let what looked like a catchable ball bounce right in front of him to allow Drew Behling to score from second and tie the ballgame.
No runs were scored for the rest of regulation, so the fans at Oregon Trail Park received free baseball. Miktio Barkman, who had a shutout ninth and entered last night’s outing with a 1.78 ERA in his last seven appearances, struggled for the first time since the beginning of July. The one that made Barkman pay was a man that was just added to the Hastings roster and made his presence felt in a hurry. Infielder from the University of Nebraska, Efry Cervantes, hit a rope into the right centerfield gap that scored runners from first and second to give the Sodbusters their first lead of the ballgame.
Going into the bottom of the tenth, it is now time to praise the relief outing of Jake Bigham who was toeing the rubber for Hastings in the inning. Before going out to the bump, Bigham had thrown six shutouts innings in relief, so even though the Pioneers had scored seven runs and were just needing two more with Luis Alcantara already at second it was gonna have to come with some might. The lead off hitter for Western was Brady Lavoie and hit what looked like was going to put two runners in scoring position with a double into the right centerfield gap.
You’re not going to believe what happens next…
Alcantara, who was waiting to see if the right fielder was going to make a great catch, had a late jump off a second base and was held up at the hot corner by third base coach Colton Taylor. Lavoie though had other plans, running head down in a full sprint to third he didn’t realize Coach Taylor had held Alcantara at the base until he was halfway in between second and third getting ready to be caught in a rundown. With second baseman Dylan Herd chasing Lavoie back to third, the right fielder had no choice but to get on the third base bag with Alcantara, be tagged out, and head back into the dugout the most frustrated guy in the ballpark. He definitely went back into the dugout frustrated, but also in confusion. As Lavoie was going to third he decided to just sprint beyond the bag and head into the dugout to give himself up, but Luis Alcantara, as senseless as this sounds, just started taking off for the plate after Lavoie got close to the bag. Lavoie didn’t realize what his teammate was doing till it was too late and he was already called out for getting out of the base path. Dylan Herd, still with the baseball, easily tagged Alcantara out going for home, as Alcantara gave himself up after thinking the only place he could go was home. Just like that there were two outs with nobody on base and the next man up in Gabe Togia flew out to center to end one of the most embarrassing endings to a game you will ever see.
Some many questions that nobody knows the answers to. Why didn’t Brady Lavoie look up at the third base Coach to stay at second? Why did Lavoie just head for the dugout instead of stay on the third base bag with Alcantara? Why did Alcantara think that because Lavoie was coming into third, he had to leave the base and go home? At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, as it dampens once again their first place Clark Division hopes by now falling 5.5 games back of that spot to the Fremont Moo with a week long set of games against the EL’s most pristine Badland Big Sticks following the Sodbusters series. The Pioneers continue to collapse with runners in scoring position, that included a bases loaded situation with one out tonight and saw a Baca strikeout and Gavello pop out in the eighth, and hurt themselves on the base paths. This may sound a little dramatic, but it is going to take the strength of Hercules to turn this mess around.