SHERIDAN — Perhaps the most telling statistic for the Sheridan Troopers in 2013 is that their combined wins and losses nearly matches their win total from a year ago.
The 2012 Troopers won a team record 49 games. This year, Sheridan finished the regular season with five straight losses last week and at 19-25 overall, just 44 total contests.
And still, Sheridan has a shot at doing something that 2012 team didn’t — wining a state tournament. Sheridan fell 9-4 to Wheatland in last year’s state title game.
Whatever the chances of that are this week, no matter, everyone is guaranteed two games at the Wyoming American Legion ‘AA’ State Tournament. Sheridan’s diamond A-squad takes one last run at it this week, looking to finish what’s been a roller coaster ride of a season on a high note.
Even as a large chunk of their 2012 squad departed, most influentially in rotation depth, Sheridan still faced plenty of good competition in 2013, with the goal of preparing the team for a return to Wyoming’s final baseball setting. They lost five of five to teams from the Cowboy State last week, three of those to the top two out of Sheridan’s League AA North and teams with more games in the win-column than Sheridan has played overall.
Still, the Troopers finished a respectable 1-1 against North District winner Cheyenne Post 6.
Sheridan’s first round opponent at state, the Jackson Giants, finished 34-26. They beat the Troop during a July tournament in Cheyenne, 7-0, in the two teams’ only 2013 meeting. It was a result that typified Sheridan’s season, carrying an Achilles’ heel that they will need to dodge if they want to make a final run. Walked batters left Sheridan behind in extended innings during the first game of a long, weekend tournament when they needed to save pitchers.
For two of the team’s leaders, Skyler Holwell and Drew Adriaens, playing through a smaller schedule due to that shortage of arms, and a large portion of it played out on the road, they’ll get one last shot at Legion ball.
Those two have seen action in 40-plus games for Sheridan this season, along with centerfielder Tony Mort (42) and shortstop Connor McCafferty (43), traveling once to Omaha among the usual regional trips on a season that was stunted by late-spring rainstorms which cut about 10 games from Post 7’s schedule. Holwell says he’s been pushing the guys this week, telling them that they’re not done yet.
“We’re trying to keep our heads up,” he said Monday before practice. “I’m telling them that we can do well — I know we can, we’ve beat every team except for Casper.”
A home school product, baseball lover and a coach’s dream in terms of versatility, Holwell has played outfield and infield, pitched and caught this season. He says he enjoys helping his team however he can, and is not ready to shelve his glove yet.
For Adriaens, it’s been a summer home while on the road with the Troopers. He redshirted for Montana State University-Billings baseball last season and will play next for Iowa Western in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a community college near Omaha., Neb.
“Oh yeah, it’s been a blast,” he said of his encore 2013 Troopers run. “I love all those guys out there, I’ve been playing with a good majority of them for two or three years now. It’s been a lot of fun, with all the traveling.
“Of course, you’d like to have a better record and win a lot more games, but we’ve had fun doing what we’re doing. We’re looking to go into one last good run here,” Adriaens added.
As much as a deep run will rely on the arms of players like Adriaens and fellow long-armed slinger Kyle Atkinson it will hinge on their bats. While Sheridan has, again, been inconsistent offensively, the potential is there. With a team batting average of .301, six players (with at least 100 bats) are over that .300 plateau: Mark Munson, Will O’Dell, Kaul Eisele, Mort, McCafferty and Adriaens.
But it’s no surprise that their focus is on pitching. You can thank their coach for that.
Ben Phillips, a Sheridan native and former pitcher who played about five years with New York Yankees affiliate farm teams, holds high expectations for his players on the mound while providing them with some unique expertise.
“He has a good repertoire of knowledge in that category being a pro pitcher and all, he helps me stay on and when I know I’m doing something wrong, I’ll ask him and he’ll point it out, just something real simple to keep me going,” Adriaens said. “He knows what we’re capable of, and he’s done the teaching, we just have to come through and perform. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Holwell agreed, even as 2013 has been different from a year ago.
“It’s been tough sometimes, we only have about seven arms, so we haven’t had as many games this year,” he said. “It’s awesome playing for him though, he’s taught us a lot.”
Sheridan plays Jackson at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, hoping to reach a second round game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
It’s a double-elimination tournament, with the eventual winners playing the title game Sunday in Cheyenne.
“We’ve got to limit our walks, and get the bat on the ball because we’ve struggled at the plate a little bit, but we’ve been hitting a little better lately,” Adriaens said of what they need to do to be successful. “We’re finally barreling it up a little more.”
Sheridan has wins against this week’s tournament teams in Gillette and both Cheyenne teams this season. Of the eight-team field, Rock Springs Archie Hay Post 24 is the only team they haven’t played. Casper is 3-0 over the Troop in 2013.
“Mainly, it’s just limiting our walks and getting outs when their given, and not giving them the free bases,” Adriaens said. “We can produce runs.”