Rawlins dominates Wheatland in first game of state tournament
By Thorn Compton
CASPER — As if the team felt they needed to solidify their turn around after midseason, the Rawlins Generals American Legion 17u baseball team played arguably their best game of the season in the first game of the state tournament in Casper Wednesday.
From the first inning, the Generals dismantled the Lobos in a 16-1 fashion.
Games normally go seven innings in American Legion rules, but in this tournament if a team is up by ten runs after five innings, the game is called. The game should likely have been called after the third inning when Rawlins scored 11 runs at the top of the inning.
Generals head coach Tom Weed said he was thrilled with his team’s performance in the first game of the tournament.
“Damon Wagner threw a complete game 2-hitter,” Weed said with a smile on his face after the game. “Everyone in the order got a hit. We had a couple walks, they struggled defensively so it wasn’t all us, but we played as a team. We ran the bases well, we just played well today.”
Wagner was the hero of the game. Not only did he shut down the Lobo offense, going five innings and giving up two hits and two walks while striking out six batters and allowing no earned runs, he also was amazing at the plate.
He hit two doubles, went 4-4 with the bat and drove in four runs while scoring two himself. Wagner also recorded his first stolen base of the season.
To top it all off, with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Wagner made a web gem down the first base line to glove flip a slowly hit ground ball to the first baseman, bringing Wheatland one out away from the losers bracket.
“I was thinking my first baseman was going to get it,” Wagner said while relaxing after the game. “I realized he wasn’t coming and the batter was getting close, so I had to make a play.”
Weed said Wagner has come a long way since the start of the season and has helped solidify their starting rotation.
“He’s using his back leg a lot more on the mound, which gives him more velocity on his go-to pitches,” Weed said of his starter. “He’s got a really nasty curveball and a changeup that drops a bit. He does that and mixes in some fast balls, we will be fine, plus we only had to use him five innings today.”
Everything worked to the Generals advantage Wednesday, especially the Wheatland defense melting down in the third inning.
During that 11 run explosion, Wheatland pitchers through seven wild pitches that plated three runs.
Before the meltdown, however, Rawlins had scored three other runs expanding their lead to 4-0.
“No one wants to run up the score,” Weed said, “so I didn’t want to just keep sending kids. But the rules of this tournament are different. There’s no 15 run limit anymore, its 10 after five innings. We had to have a cushion in case something goes against us.”
Nothing was going against the Generals on Wednesday, as they were firing on all cylinders to start off the tournament. The most noticeable change from earlier in this season is the attitudes of Generals players.
During their at bats, players in the dugout are constantly cat calling and chatting, and on the field they have a much better chemistry. Every player seems to genuinely enjoy being on the field, and ultimately that’s the goal of every sport, to enjoy your time playing.
They only had one error on Wednesday, which did lead to a run, but at that time Rawlins was up 12-0 so it wasn’t a costly error.
“We had one error, but it didn’t hurt us,” Weed said. “Earlier this season, before a couple weeks ago, we would let errors hurt us.”
Weed said their current play is a culmination of many factors all converging at just he right moment.
“We are coming together at the right time,” Weed said. “We are getting healthy at the right time, players like (Trystin) Rathbun and Tristin Mikesell are coming on great now. All of our guys are killing it, we are playing much better than we were before.”
Left-hander Rathbun will make the next start for Rawlins in this tournament, today at 10 a.m. against Cheyenne. Weed said his Generals won’t sneak up on Cheyenne easily, since Cheyenne has seen their elevated play recently.
“They are coming for it because they saw us at the Laramie tournament,” Weed said of what he thinks Cheyenne’s mentality will be. “They’re not coming in thinking its patty cake.”
Even with a loss, Rawlins wouldn’t be eliminated from the tournament. They would play again tonight at 7 p.m. against the loser of Rock Springs and Evanston.
With a win, however, they would move on in the winners bracket and face the winner of Sheridan and Laramie on Friday at 7 p.m.
When asked about having to play in an earlier start game today, Wagner said his team would be ready for the challenge.
“I think we have a good chance against Cheyenne,” Wagner said. “We’re going to wake up early, come over here (to the stadium), and play some ball.”