SHERIDAN — The Sheridan Jets never stopped fighting.
Despite being down to its final out and trailing by two runs with many newer, younger players in the third game in less than 24 hours, the baseball team kept battling. The Jets were rewarded for their perseverance and came away with a thrilling 8-7 walkoff victory in nine innings Friday against Belgrade, Montana, at Thorne-Rider Stadium.
Sheridan Head Coach Austin Cowen expressed immense pride in his team afterward and called it one of the better wins during his time as a coach.
“I’ve had quite a few wins in my coaching career now, and that’s up there,” Cowen said. “We were so short-handed … and these guys just fought, fought, fought.”
Belgrade downed the Jets 14-4 and 20-2 in a Thursday doubleheader, but the team recovered and played with joy and confidence Friday afternoon. Sheridan trailed 7-4 at one point but scored a run in the eighth inning and three runs with two outs in the ninth.
The tying and winning runs came on a grounder hit by Tyler Hutton, who hustled to first base and beat the throw after the Belgrade second basemen bobbled the ball.
Anthony Carlson crossed the plate to tie the game, and seconds later, Ryan Karajanis scored from second, sliding into home to beat the throw.
“That’s why you never quit,” Cowen told his players when they gathered after the game.
Cowen called the game a good reminder to keep showing up after disheartening performances.
“Just because you have one bad day, you can go out the next day and make it a good one,” Cowen said. “We did a great job of turning the page.”
The games this week featured several young players for the Jets because many of their regular members traveled with the Sheridan Troopers to a tournament in Omaha, Nebraska. That gave many middle-schoolers and recent middle school graduates the chance to receive plenty of playing time.
Hutton was one of those players — he will be an eight-grader this fall — and received the start on the mound, pitching six innings and allowing five runs. Brennan Mortenson pitched the final three innings and gave up two runs.
Cowen said Hutton performed phenomenally well and did everything he could ask for from a starter. Hutton did a nice job throwing strikes, stranding runners on base and gaining a few outs from pickoff moves. In the second inning, Hutton pitched himself out of a bases-loaded jam with one out, escaping unscathed after a strikeout and flyout.
Hutton credited his defense with making plays behind him after he threw strikes. The Sheridan outfielders were especially busy and made several nice catches to retire Belgrade batters.
With the performance Friday, Hutton has a better idea of what to expect in future games and said it felt great to perform well against a team of high-schoolers.
“It really helps me out,” Hutton said. “It gets my timing up and it makes me feel more confident.”
The Jets struck first, scoring two runs in the opening inning on RBIs from Carlson and Hutton. Belgrade plated three in the third and two in the sixth inning to take a 5-3 lead, but Sheridan hung tough and scored one run in the sixth to set up the drama a few frames later.
In his final at-bat, Hutton tried to relax, not overthink and put the ball in play. He fell down 0-2 in the count but fought back and made contact, leading to the comeback win.
Cowen enjoyed the slightly different experiences this week. He said stress was minimal and kept encouraging the team to give maximum effort.
“It was pressure-free because we knew we were down a couple guys, but at the same time, my only challenge to them was, ‘Hey, play as hard as you can for nine innings and let’s see what can happen,’” Cowen said. “… Baseball’s a fun game. If you play it hard and the right way the whole time, it rewards you.”
After two difficult losses a day earlier, the young team bounced back and came away with a victory to remember.
The Jets travel to face the Gillette Rustlers for a Tuesday doubleheader beginning at 5 p.m.