Mustangs competitive in season openers

David Peck

The Lovell Mustangs American Legion A team kicked off the 2023 season over the weekend with a pair of doubleheaders in Cowley and Sheridan.

The Mustangs split a doubleheader with the Evanston Outlaws Saturday, winning the opener 7-6 and dropping the nightcap 13-11. Saturday across the mountain, the Mustangs fell to the Sheridan Jets 4-1 and 5-1.

With many athletes involved in track and field or other activities, the Mustangs are a bit shorthanded and were especially so on Sunday, manager Michael Jameson said.

For the most part, the Mustangs played well, Jameson said, with solid pitching and defense, but as expected, the team didn’t hit the ball consistently on the opening weekend.

“The pitchers threw well,” he said, “and our defense was solid for the most part, except for a few instances. We allowed one big inning against Evanston.

“I was really pleased with our pitchers throwing strikes, pitching to contact and doing what we were hoping they would do.”

As for the hitting – just two runs on Sunday, for instance – it was “kind of what we were afraid of,” he said. “Getting one through nine in the lineup up to speed will be a point of emphasis going forward. Our top five or six guys did some good things at the plate.”

First win

Game one Saturday see-sawed back and forth. Lovell led 1-0, trailed 2-1, led 4-2 and led 6-3 until Evanston tied it with three in the top of the seventh. But in the bottom of the seventh Carlos Rodriguez singled and scored on a double by Tucker Jackson to win in walk-off fashion.

Jackson started on the mound for the Mustangs and was followed by Cale Wright, Jacob Bischoff and Rodriguez, who picked up the win. The quartet allowed seven hits, walked five and struck out six.

“Our goal going in was to keep everyone around 30 pitches,” Jameson said. “We tried to execute that and give everyone (who can pitch) some time on the mound.”

Rodriguez went 2-3 at the plate with three runs scored and two runs batted in. Alex Hedges was 2-4 with a run scored. Rodriguez and Jackson drove in two runs apiece.

Game two saw the Mustangs score five runs in the first inning thanks to some timely hitting, including a two-run double by Bischoff and an RBI single by Rodriguez. But the home team couldn’t hold the lead. The Outlaws scored three runs in the third inning and two in the fourth to knot the score 5-5, and after Lovell scored one in the fifth to lead 6-5, Evanston exploded for eight runs in the sixth to lead 13-6.

The Mustangs rallied for five runs in the bottom of the seventh but fell short. Jackson and Bischoff each ripped RBI doubles during the rally, and Lafe Files singled home a run.

Files, Cash Wassmer, Owen Howe and Hedges pitched for the Mustangs, allowing 10 hits and seven walks. Hedges, Rodriguez, Jackson and Files had two hits each for the Mustangs, with Bischoff driving in three runs, Jackson two.

Sheridan games

In game one Sunday in Sheridan, the homestanding Jets plated four runs in the top of the first inning against Lovell starter Hedges, and that was all they needed. The Jets never scored again against Hedges, but the Mustangs could muster only one more run – a single by Taevyn Gruell to score Files.

“Things started a little slow for Alex getting off the bus, but after that first inning he settled in and threw a really good game,” Jameson said. “He threw 71 pitches in a complete game. He got loosened up after that first inning and felt pretty good. We felt he had thrown some pretty low stress innings, and we were confident he gave us the best chance to win.”

Gruell is just 13, Jameson noted, and went 2-3 and drove in the lone run.

“He showed a lot of composure and was confident,” Jameson said. “He was not intimidated or overmatched at all.”

Files also had two hits in the game.

Hedges allowed four runs, three earned, in six innings of work on the mound, on six hits and two walks, fanning four.

A four-run inning and inability to respond cost the Mustangs in game two, as well. The Jets broke a scoreless tie with four unearned runs in the bottom of the third off starter Wright.

“It’s one of those things where, if we make a play here and there, we get out of that inning without giving up any runs,” Jameson said. “Those are plays we’ll make as the season goes on.”

Jackson “crushed one” in the top of the fourth, Jameson said, ripping a home run over Sheridan’s version of the Red Sox “green monster” in left field, but that was the lone run for the Mustangs, and Sheridan added a run in the fifth to win 5-1.

Wright took the loss for the Mustangs, though he allowed no earned runs, pitching three innings. Jackson allowed the final run for Lovell. The Mustangs had only four hits in the game, one each by Hedges, Rodriguez, Jackson and Bischoff.

Now 1-3, the Mustangs will travel to Billings Friday to meet the Billings Expos at 5 p.m. They then head over the mountain again Sunday, taking on the Class AA Sheridan Troopers at 1 p.m. for a doubleheader.