Spokane Blue Devils’ coach Tony Byrne thought some rest might benefit his team because during the month of June they played on 19 of 30 days, and practiced on a number of others.
So in the lead-up to both the July 4 Woodbat Classic, and the stretch run for the Spokane American Legion AAA season, the schedule was lighter date-wise, but as it turned out, had a heavyweight’s punch to it.
The Blue Devils played an exhibition games last Tuesday versus visiting Excelsior, Minn. where they suffered a 9-5 loss to the team that eventually earned the Senior Woodbat Classic title, 6-1 over Idaho Falls.
The break didn’t help his team as much as he thought it might, Byrne admitted. After the Excelsior game, the Blue Devils lost to the Okotoks, Alberta Dawgs 7-0, the Prairie Cardinals 10-3 before scoring a 9-1 win against the Kalispell Lakers. The Blue Devils lost 10-6 in their tournament finale to the Spokane Expos.
“There were some real positive things – the triple play for one – and that game got us going a little bit,” Byrne said of the 10-3 loss to Prairie.
In the Excelsior game, the Blue Devils led 1-0 early when Cheney’s Drew Henry lead off with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a throwing error and stole home.
After being stymied by Okotoks’ pitching and hurt by a five-run fifth inning that blew things open, the Blue Devils showed a little more life in their game against Spokane league foe, Prairie.
Tyler Gustafson singled and scored once in the fifth as part of a three-run inning that chipped away at the Cardinals’ 7-0 lead. Gustafson walked in the seventh, advanced to third but was left stranded.
The real news, however, came on defense. Cheney’s Austin Harding, who played shortstop, was involved in the rare 4-6-3 triple play in the fifth after the second baseman, Nolan Lilje caught a line drive with Cardinal runners on first and second. The throws – first to Harding and then to Chris Noonan – were quick enough to get both runners before they could get back to the base to tag up.
“It took us a few days to get back together, get kind of a rhythm back,” Byrne said.
But he sensed it coming around against Kalispell last Friday. “I thought we played really well,” Byrne said. Kalispell is a good team who beat Okotoks, the team that won the Post Falls bracket where the Blue Devils played.
The Blue Devils scratched out a run in the first in a somewhat odd manner after Henry singled, moved to third and later scored when the Lakers’ third baseman fielded a ground ball and decided to try to tag Harding rather than making the easy play to first.
The game stayed that way until the fifth when the Blue Devils opened it up, scoring six runs. That inning was aided by Gustafson’s single, his steal of second and he scored when the throw home following Henry’s single missed the cutoff. Henry added another run in the fifth, scoring from second on a Chris Noonan single. He scored his third run in the seventh when he was hit by a pitch and would later score on a bases-loaded walk.
In the tournament finale versus the Expos, Henry led off with a single and scored on Harding’s double to tie the game 2-2 in the first. He’d score again in the seventh. Harding had two singles, a double, an RBI and a run scored.
The same guys played better as the weekend went on, Byrne said, and he’ll need those players to keep it up with just a half-dozen league games remaining. He knows the bats need to come alive and have his team “win a couple of the games by outscoring somebody.”
If the Blue Devils can survive the next week, “We’ll be in pretty good shape,” Byrne said. “We have six games but I don’t know if we have six pitchers.”
“The next six games are kind of a defining time of the season for us,” Byrne said. They split a doubleheader Monday on the road with Pullman, winning 10-1 but losing the second game 6-1. Henry singled and doubled in the win. Tristan Flippo returned to the lineup for the first time in a few weeks after being injured and also singled.
“We’re going to have to have guys step up that haven’t been out there a whole bunch,” Byrne said. “We’re capable of doing that and we’ve showed it before; we’re talking can we do it in actual pressure.”
The week’s schedule consisted of a pair of league contests this past Tuesday at home against Pullman followed by Wednesday games with the Spokane Cannons. Then the Blue Devils resume tournament play in Walla Walla this weekend. The regular season ends with doubleheaders Monday, July 15 and Tuesday, July 16 against the Northstars at A.K. Jackson.
Paul Delaney can be reached at email@example.com.