by nathan oster
Now that the Lovell Mustangs have been eliminated, there is just one local boy still playing baseball this summer.
Bryce Wright, the son of Ken and Tami Wright, is a member of the Powell Pioneers, who will be the No. 1 seeds from the North when the State A American Legion Tournament commences this week in Gillette.
Wright, who will be a senior this fall at Greybull High School, has been a big part of the team, according to Jason Borders, who manages the Pioneers.
Wright missed a couple weeks early in the season due to an ankle injury, but has been coming on offensively in recent weeks. Last week the Pioneers took two of three from Douglas to earn a top seed for the state tournament.
“I think the ankle injury took a little out of him,” said Borders. “And statistically I think he had a better year last year. It just took him a little while to get into the swing of things this year. He’s really starting to come around now.”
Wright is hitting .226 and has driving in 19 runs in 31 games. He ranks among the team leaders in walks drawn, 21, and has only struck out four times in 116 plate appearances.
In the field, he’s played mostly first base, along with some right field, and has the fourth-highest fielding percentage on the team, .929.
Wright is 2-1 on the mound with one save. His ERA is 8.45, giving up 33 earned runs in 27.1 innings.
The Pioneers were scheduled to open state tournament play on Wednesday with a game against the Rawlins Generals. They are scheduled to face either Green River or Cody (their top rivals from the Northwest Conference) in second-round action today.
All eight teams in attendance are vying for not only the state title, but also a trip to the A-League Northwest Regional Tournament, which will be held in Wheatland.
Powell has a strong baseball tradition, having won back-to-back state championships as recently as three years ago. So by its own lofty standards, the 27-22 record posted by this year’s club was somewhat disappointing, Borders said.
“It’s been an up and down year,” he said. “But compared to previous years when we’ve had a lot of kids come back from college and play with us, we’re an awfully young team. In fact, we are only going to lose one kid off this team, so we should be even stronger next year.”
The Lovell Mustangs dropped two in a row and were eliminated from further contention at their district tournament. The 7-3 loss to Gillette and 25-6 drubbing at the hands of Casper left the Mustangs with a final record of 14-23.
Steven Durtsche, the team’s on-field manager, said the Mustangs let one slip away against Gillette, the No. 1 seed from the Northeast. “We were up 3-1 until the seventh inning,” he said. With two in the seventh, Gillette tied it up, then went ahead to stay with a single run in the eight and two more in the ninth.
“It was still a good season for us, though,” he said. “That’s the most wins we’ve had since the program has restarted — and we’ve been going for 10 years now.
“We were competitive. I don’t think there was one game when our opponents weren’t nervous about playing us. They had to play us tough in order to beat us.”
While Durtsche could point to good moments in the field, on the mound and in the batter’s box, the problem, he said, was inconsistency. “We’d have good games, then turn around and just play horribly,” he said. “I think we lacked some mental toughness.”
He had nothing but good things to say, however, about his team’s three Greybull players, Calder Forcella, Dawson Forcella and Justin Bacus.
Durtsche was unable to produce final season statistics on the Greybull trio, but he credited Dawson Forcelle for his work at catcher. “He was our main catcher this year and he did a great job,” he said. “He doesn’t let a ball get past him and has a good arm, on throws to second.
Dawson’s brother Calder “played everywhere — pitcher, shortstop, second base, center field,” said Durtsche. “He’s a good enough athlete, you can put him just about anywhere and he’d produce,” Dursche said. “He usually batted third or fifth for us and got on base quite a bit.”
Bacus was another player who showed great versatility. He played some outfield, some infield, pitched and even stepped in to catch when Dawson Forcella went down with an injury at about midseason. “Justin really stepped it up this year,” said Durtsche.
“Overall, we relied a lot on those Greybull boys. In fact, if Greybull doesn’t have a team next year again, we’d love to have them back. Maybe we could even pick up a few more players from down there.”