SHERIDAN — Tuesday night was not how a team wants to start off the final month of a season.
Sheridan returned home for a make-up game against their League AA opponent the Gillette Roughriders, dropping a strikeout-laden, choppy, nine-inning contest, 9-5, and suffering their first conference loss of the season. The Troop (2-1, 11-16 overall) played just their second home game since May 12, and have meanwhile faced plenty of strong competition in weekend road tournaments, but their in-game struggles again came home with them Tuesday.
Trailing 9-5 entering the bottom of the ninth inning and not having threatened Gillette since the fourth, Sheridan loaded the bases with Connor McCafferty and Mark Munson singles followed by an Ethan Hoopes walk.
With one out, Sheridan struck out twice to end the game, bringing their strikeout total to 17 on the night. The final sequence painfully summed up Tuesday night.
“That’s killed us all year long,” head coach Ben Phillips said. “We strikeout so much as a baseball team. We just refuse to swing at a pitch on the outside half of the plate with two strikes.”
“That’s something that we’re just going to have to work on in practice. We need to shorten our swings up, we need to fight pitches off. If they think that these pitchers are going to make a mistake and just throw it down the middle with two strikes, they’re crazy.”
Sheridan out-hit Gillette 8 to 7, and Gillette had more errors and more strikeouts. Trooper pitchers set down 19 Roughrider batters — starter Drew Adriaens K’d 10 and reliever Kyle Atkinson waved nine. But, Sheridan’s two defensive errors came at inopportune times and their stranded runners — as the stat tends to do in any game — turned out to be the difference in the game. Adriaens struck out five of the first six batters he faced, and Gillette’s first three runs came by way of a passed ball and a fielding error that set up a mishandled two-run-scoring sacrifice bunt.
With the score tied 4-4 entering the fifth inning, Gillette chased the Troopers ace with three runs on two hits and a passed ball at the plate to begin the inning. Adriaens struck out two to cap the threat, but the 7-4 lead held to the end for Gillette.
Sheridan struck out 10 times in the final four frames, getting just one more run on a Hoopes single to right field that scored McCafferty in the seventh. McCafferty and Mort had two hits, and Hoopes and McCafferty had an RBI apiece.
Yet again, Adriaens was the bright spot for Sheridan on both sides of the ball. With two outs in the first inning, he took off his ace pitcher hat and putting on his clean-up hitter one.
He sent a line-drive home run over straightway center field on the first pitch he saw, going yard for the third time in four days. Adriaens hit two home runs in a Rapid City tournament over the weekend and has a team-leading four on the year while hitting .329 at the plate this season.
“We need some guys besides Drew Adriaens to step up on this team,” Phillips said, addressing a question on his squad’s upcoming tournament in Cheyenne beginning Thursday.
Sheridan will see the most in-state competition they’ve seen all year with games against Wheatland, Cheyenne and Casper to start things off.
“Besides him on our pitching staff, our other pitchers are just walking way too many guys, and it’s killing us,” the coach went on.
“Last week in Rapid City I thought we played decent defensively. We hit the ball well, but when we have pitchers who can’t go through one inning because they’re walking six guys in one inning and it’s five games in three days…that leaves everybody else hanging because you didn’t do your job.
“So these guys have got to step it up and start being competitive, and want to win and have confidence to play baseball.”
Sheridan played in front of easily their largest crowd of the season, a crowd that witnessed a somewhat emotionless game spanning 3 hours and 15 minutes, stunted by back-and-forth play courtesy of long pitch counts that didn’t allow either squad to hold much momentum.
“I don’t know how many times we were 0-2 in the count and I look up and it’s 3-2,” Phillips said. “We’re picking, we can’t locate our off-speed, and they’re a good team. They foul off a lot of pitches, they battle, but we needed to do the same thing.
“We were caught way too many times looking at strike three. I dont’ know how many times we had runners in scoring position and went strikeout, strikeout.
We’ve got a lot of work to do on protecting balls that are on the outside half and protecting the plate with two strikes.”
He added that his team’s Achilles heel has been walking the lead-off batter. They did so in five innings Tuesday, and Gillette scored in four of them.
Sheridan got two back in the fourth inning to tie things at 4-4 when they manufactured runs of their own thanks to some speedy baserunning. Will O’Dell and Tony Mort each singled and after Christian Mayer was hit by a pitch, McCafferty roped a single through the left side to score O’Dell. Mayer’s steal forced an errant throw that scored Mort.
Sheridan fans get two more chances to watch the Troop at home in 2013, a doubleheader July 15 against Laramie and a game July 24 against Casper. In the meantime, the Troop will keep working on the little things with two more tournaments among five road trips before their State AA Tournament July 31-Aug. 4 in Cheyenne.
“Defensively, we’re alright, we don’t make too many errors, we had a couple bad ones tonight that hurt us,” Phillips said. “But that hasn’t really been us. At the plate that’s what’s been going on, we strike out at least one time an inning and you just can’t do that.”
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Gillette 1 0 3 0 3 1 1 0 0 9 7 5
Sheridan 1 1 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 5 8 2
Pitching: D. Adriaens: 5 IP 5 H 7 R 4ER 4BB 10K; K. Atkinson: 4 IP 2 H 2 R 2 ER 4 BB 9 K
Hitting: HR: D. Adriaens RBI: C. McCafferty, D. Adriaens, E Hoopes
Team hitting: Sheridan, 8-37; Gillette, 7-32 Strikeouts: Sheridan, 17; Gillette 19 Walks: Sheridan, 4; Gillette 8