The start for the Laramie Rangers American Legion baseball team couldn’t have been worse.
That’s what probably made the ending all that much more gratifying.
Laramie spotted Class A powerhouse Cody five runs in the top of the first inning Saturday at Cowboy Field in the final pool game of the Dooley Oil Classic.
The Class AA Rangers responded by scoring 14 unanswered runs for a 14-5 win in five innings because of the tournament’s eight-run mercy rule after five innings.
The Rangers — winners of a season-best six straight to reach .500 on the season at 16-16 — will play for the tournament championship at 3:45 p.m. today against Fort Morgan, Colorado. Both teams went 3-0 in pool play to advance to the title game.
Laramie also became the first Wyoming legion team to beat Cody (29-4) this season. The Cubs’ previous three losses were all to Montana teams.
The Rangers went with senior Albert Steiner on the mound in a game the team’s been pointing to for several weeks. Cody responded with the first six batters collecting hits as the Cubs scored five runs in rather easy fashion.
“That was a rough inning,” Steiner said with a laugh. “But I stayed calm and our team stayed calm. If we had blown up that first inning it would have been a very different ball game.”
The key to the win may have come in Laramie’s first at bat.
Instead of hanging their heads, the Rangers responded with six runs in the bottom of the inning by sending 11 batters to the plate.
The first seven Rangers reached safely on five singles and two walks,
By the time Blake Moore singled for the second time in the inning as the leadoff batter to drive in David Coulthard, Laramie had a 6-5 lead, a lead they would not give up.
“You could just see how we turned everything around,” Rangers manager Brandon Ruckman said of the first-inning rally. “The kids just kept fighting back and were aggressive at the plate and on the base paths. We took advantage of everything we could.”
While Steiner found his changeup to shut down Cody over the next four innings, the Rangers continue to chip away at the plate.
Laramie scored single runs in the second and third innings for an 8-5 lead, then blew the game open with six runs in the bottom of the fourth for a 14-5 cushion. The Rangers again sent 11 batters to the plate in the inning.
Steiner then got the first two outs of the fifth inning before being pulled because of his pitch count. Logan Pickard struck out Devyn Engdahl to end the game.
Steiner allowed just two hits after the first inning to give up eight in his 4 2/3 innings of work while striking out two to improve to 2-2 on the season. The righty ended up throwing 53 of his 75 pitches for strikes.
“The key is to keep throwing strikes,” he said. “I think I walked one guy, and I knew if I could keep throwing strikes, I could get through it. After the first inning, I was able to throw my off-speed (pitches) very well and threw mostly off speed the rest of the game.”
The Rangers totaled 11 hits offensively and were helped by six walks off three Cody pitchers while the Cubs also committed three errors that led to four unearned runs.
Caleb Eaton and Coulthard each went 2-for-3 and drove in three runs for the Rangers while Baden Jordan and Moore were 2-for-3 with two RBIs apiece.
Now, the Rangers must turn their focus to a Fort Morgan team that beat the Cheyenne Hawks 11-6, Spearfish, South Dakota, 5-2, Colorado Baseball Club 5-4 to reach the championship from the other pool.
“Fort Morgan is a great team, too,” Ruckman said. “They went 3-0 for a reason and beat both Spearfish and the Hawks, who beat us this season. The biggest mistake we can make is not coming ready tomorrow.”
RANGERS 14, CODY 5 (5 INN.)
Cody 500 00 — 5 8 3
Laramie 611 6x — 14 11 2
Cody, Cooper Brown, Jordan Waisa (3), Tristan Blatt (4) and Connor McLeod; Laramie, Albert Steiner, Logan Pickard (5) and Caleb Eaton. WP—Steiner. LP—Brown. 2Bs—Cody, Tristan Blatt, Hayden Bronnenberg; Laramie, Caleb Eaton, Baden Jordan. 3Bs—none. HRs—none