SHERIDAN — Any sports fan knows that its not always the regular season best that wins it all. Sometimes it’s better to catch fire late in the year.
Just ask the Sheridan Jets, who used a 61-run barrage over a four-game run during this weekend’s Wyoming State ‘B’ Tournament at Thorne-Rider Stadium to eventually take the title Sunday morning. They stole the trophy, beating Cheyenne, the team that has won the last 10 ‘B’ titles.
The Jets, Sheridan’s American Legion Post 7 youngsters, or ‘B’ squad, have never won the state championship, according to the usual word of mouth and simple memory-based high school sports archives. Longtime Legion coach Larry Martoglio said if they had won it was prior to tenure, one that spanned well-beyond the 10-year Cheyenne run.
This year, the Jets blossomed in the tournament, playing as hosts and taking their first big step toward becoming Sheridan Troopers.
A 21-3 rout of Laramie Friday night got things started and put the Jets into a quarterfinal matchup with low-seed, Jackson, Saturday afternoon where they ran out to a 17-1 win. Saturday night, they rode the arm of Tyler Stauffer. He threw the full seven inning 11-0 shutout against Casper, allowing no earned runs on four hits. And Sunday, it was more of the same as runs early and often built a 8-0 lead after two innings, and Kendall Walters pitched his own complete game to help the Jets oust Cheyenne 12-2.
Even though they started slow in the six-team competition Thursday with a 12-3 loss to Casper., Post 7 bounced back.
“We started out the first game of the tournament and we didn’t play our best,” head coach Ryan Murner said. “I think the kids just realized that they would need to play better baseball to do well. I think we played our best four games right at the end of the season. I’m really proud of these guys for what they did.”
Tournament most valuable player was Stauffer for his gem on the mound, but the award could have easily been shared between several Jets. Kris Clark’s weekend at the plate included 12 RBIs over the four wins. In all, Sheridan recorded 53 RBIs, scoring four runs in the first frame of each contest and never looking back.
While the Jets final overall mark of 18-28 shows a still-developing young squad, their late emergence was encouraging for any Jets or even Troopers coach.
Sheridan spent a good portion of 2013 against teams from Billings, playing 18 games against their different squads. The Jets won just three out of those 18, but Murner said strong competition like that only helped them in the end.
“The group really gelled well together, they all really care about one another and they were a family all year,” he said. “There were ups and downs. We played some tough teams this year, and we had to battle through a lot. I think that just helped us at the end of the year.”
And, sure, the tournament was a junior varsity affair consisting of different levels of development on each team that traveled to Sheridan, but baseball is baseball, and the Jets played a particularly attractive variety of it this weekend.
They limited their errors in the field and added a little flare with barehanded pick-ups at shortstop and sliding catches in the outfield.
Most importantly, while opposing teams went through three and four pitchers per game, Sheridan saved their arms with one-man efforts, kept alive by short innings with limited walks.
“There is still a lot of work that they’re going to need to do — from the ‘Bs’ to the AAs is a big jump and this is encouraging for them — but if they want to have success at the next level they’ll have to really work hard for it,” Murner said of the team’s outlook as Sheridan Troopers in a year or so’s time.
At least for now, baseball futures at Wyoming American Legion Post 7 seem to be rising.
Jets box scores
Championship: Sheridan 12, Cheyenne 2
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
4 4 0 0 1 0 3 12 14 1
0 0 0 0 0 0 2 2 5 6
2B: D. Alden RBI: T. Martini, K. Clark 3, D. Alden 2, B. Godwin, J. Timberlake 2, B. Kjerstad, M. Lube SF: T. Martini ROE: T. Stauffer 2, K. Clark, B. Kjerstad FC: T. Martini HBP: J. Timberlake, M. Lube SB: T. Stauffer 2, T. Martini, M. Lube
Semifinal: Jets 11, Casper 0
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
4 0 1 1 0 0 5 11 12 2
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 3
2B: D. Alden RBI: T. Martini, K. Clark 2, Z. Blaney, D. Alden 3, M. Lube SAC: T. Martini SF: D. Alden ROE: J. Timberlake, B. Kjerstad FC: D. Alden SB: M. Lube, K. Clark 2, D. Alden, B. Kjerstad 2, M. Lube
First round: Sheridan 17, Jackson 1
1 2 3 4 5 R H E
4 4 9 0 1 2 2 2
0 0 0 0 1 17 13 3
2B: K. Clark 3, Z. Blaney, B. Godwin RBI: T. Stauffer, T. Martini 3, K. Clark 2, Z. Blaney, B. Godwin 3, K. Walters 2, M. Lube 2, C. Wiltse SF: T. Stauffer, T. Martini ROE: J. Timberlake FC: T. Stauffer, K. Walters HBP: M. Lube, K. Clark, B. Godwin SB: T. Stauffer 3, M. Lube 2
Wyoming State ‘B’ Tournament
Sheridan, July 25-28
Laramie 10, Gillette 3
Sheridan 17, Jackson 1
Cheyenne 16, Laramie 4
Sheridan 11, Casper 1
Sunday championship: Sheridan 12, Cheyenne 2