SHERIDAN — For the first time in a more than a month the Sheridan Troopers played at home.
Their recent struggles continued.
A sloppy start resulted in too many runs to make up, and despite some garbage time scoring, Sheridan fell 15-10 to the Billings Halos Thursday night.
Head coach Ben Phillips took a candid approach to a bad night.
“That’s about the only positive that we didn’t really have to go anywhere,” Phillips said, his team now 9-12 on the year. “Our pitchers walked too many batters, we had way too many strikeouts and we committed way too many errors in the field. Those three things combined are not a good thing for a baseball team.”
Sheridan spent last weekend in Omaha, going 1-4 in their five games. An experience for sure, they watch the College World Series and had stories to tell like taking batting practice before the likes of division one baseball teams North Carolina and Indiana.
Thursday, Sheridan was at Thorne-Rider Stadium for the first time since May 12 with a familiar arm back in the line-up. Kyle Atkinson took the mound for Sheridan, lasting five innings he struggled to find his control. Atkinson was a key piece in the Troop’s record-breaking 2012 season, and rejoined the team this month. His long frame and fast work on the mound were, at times, accentuated by hard-thrown strikes low in the zone, but Billings made contact and scored four in the first inning.
After five innings Atkinson had allowed six earned, walking seven and striking out seven, taking the loss as the Troopers never closed a first inning deficit.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with is our pitchers not throwing strikes,” Phillips said. “I think we average about a walk per inning or a hit batter, and that’s just mental because they’re throwing strikes in the bullpen. And it’s usually a leadoff hitter, which means 70 percent of the time they’re going to score. It’s nothing more than mental, and I don’t know if they’re scared or what, but I don’t know how to make them not be scared because it’s just baseball.
“We’ve been striking out all year too,” he continued. “We’re going to have to take care of this quick or it’s going to be a really bad year. We strike out once an inning, and we do it with runners in scoring position too. We’re trying to do too much at the plate instead of putting the ball in play.”
Compounding the early Billings lead, Sheridan was sloppy in the field, committing six errors in the game. The Halos advantage grew to 9-2 by the end of the fifth inning. Kevin Bakkehaug entered the game in the sixth and closed for Sheridan, striking out six and walking five while allowing four earned, maintaining control despite five walks as he worked out of several jams. When the game looked to be finished by a four-run eighth from the Halos, making the score 15-5 and setting up the 10-run rule, Sheridan showed life in their half of the inning.
The Troopers took advantage of Billings pitcher Brady Solheim’s own loss of control on the hill, taking four walks in the inning and using a Mark Munson RBI triple and a Kaul Eisele RBI single to keep the game going. Munson came on strong late, subbing in and going 2-2 at the plate with four RBIs including the triple. Matt Mullinax had a good night offensively at 2-4 with an early RBI.
It was hard to find positives elsewhere in the line-up; Sheridan was a combined 7 for 38 at the plate with 13 walks and 20 strikeouts Thursday night. Five of Sheridan’s first six outs were strikeouts as their struggles allowed Billings lead to balloon.
“What I’m most thankful for is that we have a week off because we have so much to work on,” Phillips said. Sheridan takes the week before a tournament in Rapid City June 27-30.
“This is a good week for us to focus on shortening up our swings and get a line drive approach at the plate instead of a home run approach,” he said. “We have three home runs this year. They need to get this philosophy that they are a home run hitting team out of our heads because they’re not one.”
“It just comes from guys not having a good approach,” he explained. “If we’re down five runs with a guy on third, a home run isn’t going to do a lot for us. We just have gotten to a point where they either fix it or they don’t play any more if you can’t mentally do what you’re supposed to do. I guess it will be a good weeding out process.”
Hitting: 2B: Kaul Eisele, Matt Mullinax; 3B Mark Munson; RBIs Connor McCafferty, Kaul Eisele 2, M. Mullinax 3, M. Munson 4
Pitching: Kyle Atkinson 5 innings, 4 hits, 6 earned runs, 7 BB, 7 Ks; Kevin Bakkehaug 4 innings, 2 hits, 4 earned runs, 5 BB, 6 Ks