Sometimes, the old adage is true: You can lose the battle but still win the war.
The Evanston Legion AA baseball team went into Friday’s regular-season conference finale at Jackson needing one win in two games to clinch the outright AA West title.
Jackson had other plans. The Giants (22-27, 9-3 in conference) swept the day/night doubleheader 5-3 and 11-9, giving them a 9-3 conference record and creating a logjam atop the AA West standings.
With identical conference records — and the coveted No. 1 seed in this week’s AA State Tournament in Rock Springs up for grabs — it came down to a tiebreaker between Jackson and the Outlaws: The team that scored the most runs in conference play would be declared AA West Champions.
“We went into the doubleheader with an 11-run lead in the tiebreaker,” said Outlaws manager Chad Thompson. “They took two runs from us in that first game, so we went into game two leading the tiebreaker by nine. At one point in that second game we lost the lead, but got it back with that big final inning.”
When the dust settled and the runs were tallied, the Outlaws (27-20, 9-3 in conference) finished where they had been all season — at the top of the AA West Conference standings.
“[Winning conference] was one of the goals for the boys heading into the season, and they were able to achieve it,” said Outlaws manager Chad Thompson. “It was good to see, they worked hard for it.”
The regular season now in the books, the Outlaws will head to the Legion AA State Tournament this week in Rock Springs as the No. 1 seed out of the West. Evanston will open the tournament Wednesday against Laramie, the No. 4 team out of the East.
“Laramie is the only AA team we haven’t played this year,” Thompson said. “That’s about par for the course. They’ve got a good program, and their coaches do a good job. They’re not going to be a rollover — it’s going to be a fight. We’ll work hard the next two days, and see what we can do there.”
Jackson 5, Evanston 3
The Curse of the Big Inning proved to be the Outlaws’ undoing in the opening game of Friday’s twin bill — clinging to a 2-0 lead late in the game, Evanston allowed five runs in the bottom of the sixth en route to a 5-3 loss.
“We did not hit well,” coach Thompson said. “And credit to Jackson for doing their job — they kept us off balance.”
The Outlaws had the advantage early in the contest, plating a run in the top of the first. Back-to-back singles by Clayton Moyles and Ryan Fisher set the stage for an RBI single off the bat of Jagger Mitchell, giving Evanston a 1-0 lead.
The Outlaws added to that lead in the top of the third — after getting hit by a pitch, Mitchell promptly stole second, putting a runner in scoring position. Gus Allred smacked a double to left to score Mitchell, and the Outlaws led 2-0.
With Allred on the mound, Evanston held the Giants scoreless through five innings. But the wheels came off in the bottom of the sixth — the Giants took advantage of timely hitting and a couple of defensive miscues to take a 5-2 lead.
Down to their final at-bat, the Outlaws plated one more run to cut the lead to 5-3. But that’s as close as they would get, as Jackson held on for the win.
Evanston had eight hits in the contest, with Mitchell (2-for-3, RBI) and Fisher (2-for-4, run scored) collecting multiple hits. Allred finished 1-for-3 with a double and 2 RBIs; Reid Gross, Brenden Thompson, Moyles and Caysen Smith rounded out the hitting with one apiece.
Allred pitched a complete game in the loss, giving up five unearned runs on six hits and striking out seven.
“Gus pitched extremely well — definitely well enough for us to win the ball game,” Thompson said. “We just couldn’t score enough runs to do it.”
Jackson 11, Evanston 9
Looking to prove their win in game one wasn’t a fluke, the Giants pounded out 15 hits in the nightcap, en route to an 11-9 win.
But the story of the game for the Outlaws was runs scored — down 11-2 in the top of the seventh, Evanston battled back with seven runs in their final at-bat to cut the lead to 11-9. It wasn’t enough to win the game, but it did win the Outlaws the tiebreaker — and the team’s first-ever conference title.
“They [the Outlaws] had their backs against the wall, and came out and did what they had to do that final inning,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t just trying to get those runs back for the tiebreaker — we were trying to win the game. We fell a little short, but in the end, there was definitely some fight there.”
The Outlaws held an early 1-0 lead, the result of a bases-loaded walk by Reid Gross in the top of the first. Jackson brought the game back to even with a run in the bottom of the first, then took the lead for good with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third.
Down 4-1 in the top of the fifth, the Outlaws halved Jackson’s lead with another bases-loaded walk by Gross. But with five runs in the bottom of the fifth and another two in the bottom of the sixth, Jackson held a seemingly insurmountable 11-2 lead heading into the final frame.
Down to their final at-bats and needing at least two more runs to have a shot at winning the tiebreaker, the Outlaws plated seven runs to cut Jackson’s lead to 11-9.
With two on and one out, Casey Periman smacked an RBI double to make it 11-3.
Gross reached base on an error that scored Gus Allred and Periman; Gross later scored on an RBI single by Brenden Thompson to make it 11-6. RBI singles by Derek MacDonald and Clayton Moyles followed; Caysen Smith — who reached base after being hit by a pitch — scored the Outlaws’ final run on a wild pitch.
The game would go into the books as an 11-9 loss for the Outlaws — but what will be remembered about this game will be the scrappy comeback in the last inning that Evanston the AA West title.
The Outlaws scattered eight hits over seven innings, led by multi-hit games from Thompson (2-for-4, RBI, run scored) and Allred (2-for-4, run scored). Periman finished with an RBI double, while Jordan Schneider, Moyles and MacDonald collected a hit apiece, with RBIs from Moyles and MacDonald.
“Toward the end of the game, we made a couple of changes, trying to spark something,” Thompson said. “Derek MacDonald came in and hit the ball well — Caysen Smith came in, hit the ball well for us. They really did spark us, got us going.”
Gross led the team with 4 RBIs, despite not having a hit in the contest.
“Reid [Gross] had some really good at-bats,” Thompson said. “It worked out in his favor. When you keep working that count, you can make things happen.”
Ryan Fisher was saddled with the loss for the Outlaws, giving up seven earned runs on nine hits, and striking out two in four and a third innings. Smith and Mitchell made appearances in relief, each giving up two earned runs.