Seth Kuykendall was rolling along until things started to unravel in the fifth inning. Badlands batted around in what was part of a five run fifth that eventually buried the Pioneers.
With a 8-3 loss to Badlands on Saturday, Western Nebraska has now lost back-to-back-to-back series and, with a Hastings win over Freemont in the late night Expedition League contest, will be 7.5 games back of the Sodbusters when they wake up on Sunday.
The Pioneers got out to an early lead as Cody Kehl got them going with a solo shot in the bottom of the first. Kehl, who was last night’s K-man, forced the Big Sticks faithful to buy their beer at full price for the entirety of the baseball game as he collected nearly half the Pioneers hits. The sophomore from Columbia Basin Junior College reached in all five plate appearances, going 3-3 with an RBI, two runs and two bases on balls.
However, the Pioneers lead was short lived, as the Big Sticks were able to squeak a run across in both the first and second inning. Kuykendall was able to settle in a bit, retiring six of the next seven batters he faced, but Big Sticks starter Nick Flesher had to dig deep to avoid trouble in the fourth. Trevor Mattson opened the frame with a base knock to left which was then followed by a Sam Hillyer walk. After getting Blaine Ray to hit into an out, Flesher issued a walk to Gabe Togia which in turn loaded the bases for Ethan Loveless. Fletcher, who averages below four strikeouts per nine, got Loveless out on strikes. Spencer Marenco strolled up to the dish in an attempt to give the Pios the lead, but the shortstop suffered the same fate as his fellow freshman, striking out which sequentially put an end to the Pios threat.
Kuykendhall came apart in the fifth, allowing four hits and a walk as Badlands finally began to pull away from Western Nebraska. Logan Williams’ two-run single keyed a five-run fourth for the Lewis Division leaders, who scored just eight runs during their three-game series loss at Souris Valley earlier this week.
Williams struck again in the eighth, smacking a solo home run off of Carson Cody to bring his season total to three. Cody, who has surrendered just one run over his last 6.2 innings coming into Saturday, would have been near perfect if not for the round tripper by WIlliams. The lengthy righty retired 9 of the 11 batters he faced while striking out four. After Saturday, his earned run average has dropped nearly three points since the start of July, from 6.75 to 4.12.
Coming off a strong effort in his first start as Pioneer, Kuykendall (0-1) was ineffective in this one. He gave up seven runs — five earned — and ten hits in 5 innings, striking out four and walking two. The Spokane native’s ERA ballooned to 8.18 as he will look to bounce back next weekend against Hastings.
Flescher (1-2) pitched out of trouble early, allowing one run, four hits — all but one were singles — and three walks in 5 innings. Badlands, which leads the Expedition League in team ERA, got good, but not great results from their bullpen as they surrendered two runs in four innings of work. Parker Strohr and Michael Reddick allowed three hits and three walks, but limited the damage by stranding three runners in scoring position. Neither BIg Sticks reliever had an answer for Marenco, who reached on a walk in the seventh and a single in the eighth.
The Pioneers and Big Sticks will run it back tomorrow evening as Western Nebraska will try to stave off the three-game sweep.