SHERIDAN — During the top halves of innings Thursday, the Sheridan Jets dugout was a lonely place.
What usually is a location filled with teammates chirping words of encouragement was one that was mostly silent aside from a few critiques from Head Coach Austin Cowen.
Due to the Sheridan Troopers’ tournament in Omaha this week, the Jets’ roster, for the time being, is decimated. Only nine players suited up for Thursday’s doubleheader against Belgrade at Thorne-Rider Park.
That made Cowen’s message before the game simple.
“He just told us to step up,” Sheridan’s Tyler Hutton said. “He told us that this is our opportunity, so take it, and use it, and make a play.”
And while the minimal and youthful Jets made some players, they simply couldn’t keep pace. Sheridan fell in the opener 14-4 and lost the nightcap 20-2.
“My game plan was just to see them compete,” Cowen said. “We understand that we are shorthanded, and guys are out of position, but it’s not an excuse to not play to win.”
And that wasn’t the case. Cowen enjoyed how his team played through the first four innings of the opener. They put runners on base, moved them into scoring position, but couldn’t earn the timely hit.
The Jets stranded seven runners on base through the first four innings and six of those were in scoring position. Belgrade, in the meantime, tallied one run in the second inning, three in the third and two more in the fourth before a huge fifth inning.
Sean Barrett received the nod to start for Sheridan. He lasted three innings, giving up five earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts.
The Jets offense didn’t come around until their backs were against the wall in the bottom of the fifth inning. With Sheridan trailing 14-0, it needed runs to extend the game and stave off the 10-run rule.
And the Jets made a push. They batted around in the bottom half of the fifth, capitalizing on errors and doing some of the work themselves — Hutton logged an RBI single.
“(Belgrade) kind of put it to us that last inning, but then we came back out and punched right back,” Cowen said. “We are going to fight and keep competing until they tell us to stop. … It’s really good to see that fight all the way to the end. No quit.”
But Sheridan couldn’t keep the magic going late.
The Jets stranded two more runners in the fifth and dropped the game.
It wasn’t the victory Cowen wanted, but he realized the young roster acquitted themselves well in spots Thursday.
“Small victories were huge in games like this,” Cowen said. “Guys get more opportunities to get more playing time and get a chance to come through in big situations. When we are shorthanded, it’s another guy’s turn to step up. … Some good moral victories for us.”
Sheridan hosts Belgrade in a nine-inning affair Friday afternoon.