There were more fireworks outside of Duncan Field’s brick walls than inside them this July 4th.
Thursday’s doubleheader with the Hub City Hotshots was dominated by pitching, and in the best way, too, as a pair of homegrown kids with the same first name earned victories for the Sodbusters.
Trey Asher finished six innings and earned the win in game one after giving up two runs on nine hits while striking out four. He walked just one.
Trey Kissack commanded the strike zone in the nightcap, fanning 12 and walking two while limiting Hub City to five hits over seven complete frames.
“We didn’t play our best baseball, but we played good enough to come out against a good team and get two victories. It’s nice to see us control a game when the hitters are struggling,” Sodbusters head coach Ryan McClaran said afterward.
Asher stranded a total of eight baserunners, four of which were in scoring position at the time. Twice he got out of jams by helping himself on comebackers, and his defense did not commit an error.
In fact, Hastings didn’t have a defensive mishap in either game, which helps a winning cause immensely.
“You play tremendous defense like we did, and we can afford to struggle at other facets of the game and still win,” McClaran said. “It was a tremendous effort.”
Kissack, who McClaran described as a “bulldog,” refused to surrender the ball in the seventh, even after the Hotshots had the tying run on base in the seventh.
“He might have bit my hand if I tried to take the ball,” McClaran said.
The pair of victories marked the third and fourth in Hastings’ last five games. The wins are especially important considering the second half of the season began a week ago.
The Expedition League’s new playoff format mimics more of a true minor league feel. In lower-level affiliates and other summer baseball leagues alike, the ‘first half champion’ clinches a spot, and sometimes home field advantage, in the first round of playoffs. Essentially, it makes the second half of the season a smaller race.
In the case of the Sodbusters who are fourth overall in the Clark Division, They have one less team — the Western Nebraska Pioneers — to compete with for a playoff spot. The Pioneers clinched the first half title, so it’s Hastings, Spearfish, Casper, and Fremont vying for that second berth.
The two wins Thursday place Hastings in first place, not including Western Nebraska, at 4-2.
“We’re second in the standings, but technically it’s first if you want to look at the second half standings. So we’re in first place for that second playoff spot,” McClaran said.
Hastings scored early in game one and added on late to cushion Asher’s winning bid.
Casey Burnham led off the third with an infield hit and Wyatt Andersen singled him home.
Andersen later doubled in the fifth which brought home Grant Schmidt, who singled, and scored on a Carlos Pineyro RBI knock.
After Hub City cut the Hastings lead to one in the sixth, Carter Sakamoto singled and was plated on an Alec Lee double. Then Anthony Cassos hit a sacrifice fly that brought in Lee.
Ivan Varela took over for Asher in the seventh and earned the save after surrendering three straight hits and a run.
In the nightcap, Kissack went punch-for-punch with Hub City starter Austin Crain.
“(Crain) was electric,” McClaran said.
Hastings didn’t have its first hit until the fifth, and Crain held the Sodbusters scoreless until the sixth.
As Kissack dealt around trouble, and recorded at least one strikeout in each of the seven frames, the offense struggled mightily until finally a rally began.
Drew Bailey led the sixth off with a single. Given the circumstances of the game being scoreless, it was almost a sure thing that the next hitter, Cassos would be bunting.
The defense was playing Cassos to lay one down, but his attempt was too perfectly placed for a play to be made. It rolled past the pitcher, and reached the dirt before it was fielded by the Hotshots second baseman, who then tried to back-pick Bailey but the throw went into shallow left field.
Bailey took third base on the error, and Cassos grabbed second. As the throw came in from the outfield, Bailey decided he wanted home, too.
The throw from the cutoff man was offline, and Bailey broke the scoreless tie. A few pitches later, Cassos trotted home as Grant Schmidt fell a few feet short of the bricks in left and stood on third with an RBI triple.
“That’s a testament that I should be doing more things like that (coaching third base),” McClaran said. “That’s the first sign I’ve called since I took over the reins at third base and just look at the havoc it caused.
“Hats off to Cassos, he laid down a perfect push bunt and it set us up. I was fine with (Drew) Bailey going to third on that play, but just the chaos ensued and we snuck a run out of it. That’s a savvy play by Drew Bailey. I did not send him (home), that was all him. When you’re struggling at the dish against a good arm, you’ve got to do stuff like that. That falls back on me, but the guys did a phenomenal job.”
Kissack got two quick outs in the seventh before back-to-back singles put the tying run on base, but his 12th K ended the evening and ended the short homestand with some fireworks.
Hastings embarks on its longest road trip of the season Friday. The 10-day stretch that leads into the all-star break (July 15-17) begins in Dickinson, N.D., with a weekend series against the Badlands Big Sticks, who lead the Lewis Division and clinched the first half title on that side.
Travel days are tough for any team, nonetheless a 10-hour trek north like Friday’s, but McClaran knows the Sodbusters have to get better on them if they’re going to compete in the race for a playoff spot.
“One thing we need to get better at is traveling. When we get off that bus, we don’t put together the best baseball games,” McClaran said. “We’re going to try to do some things a little different (this trip) and see if we can’t get off the bus hot.
“The second half is ours for the taking.”
HCH.................000 011 1 — 3 12 0
HAS.................001 022 x — 5 11 0
W — Trey Asher. L — Trevyn Wells.
2B — H, Andersen, Lee. HC, Allen, Guidry.
HCH ...................000 000 0 — 0 4 1
HAS....................000 002 x — 2 4 0
W — Trey Kissack. L — Austin Crain.
3B — H, Schmidt.