Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Cannons are clicking now

Team is playing well when it counts coach says

 

Lisa Wagner

West Plains members of the AAA Spokane Cannons American Legion Baseball team include (L-R): Riley Jones, Dylan Arthur, Andrew Witt, Brayden Hale, Cory Wagner, Luke Martin and Julian Chabot. Not pictured, Jacob Lauber. The Cannons started slow, but finished strong in last week's Wood Bat Classic and are playing well heading into a tournament this weekend in Whitefish, Mont. where they were runner's up in 2016.

Coaches will tell you it's not the start but the finish that counts.

And Spokane Cannons' head coach Chad Ripke is abiding by that mantra as his team enters the crucial stretch drive of the 2017 AAA American Legion baseball season.

Case in point: In a bid to possibly improve on their third place finish in the 2016 Wood Bat Classic, the Cannons lost their first two games in the 2017 Post Falls Pod, but finished with three consecutive wins, including a 'W' against Edmonton, the team that knocked them out of the title game a year ago.

In the Wood Bat, host Post Falls topped the Cannons 5-4 in walk-off fashion to open play June 30. The Billings Scarlets hung a 10-0 loss on them to finish the day. Spokane began the reversal with a 7-5 win over Northwest Premier Saturday morning and evened their record with a 12-5 domination of Edmonton.

The Cannons lost a four-way tiebreaker to advance in their pod, but closed out play with a 13-1 win over the Coeur d'Alene Lumbermen Sunday.

"It was a good tournament for us overall, we saw some real positives from my team and I like how they are playing right now," Ripke wrote in an email. "We just have to keep making steps in the right direction."

In the Wood Bat opener, the Cannons saw a 4-2 lead vanish in the bottom of the seventh as Post Falls scored three in their half of the seventh to win.

His team was "In control for most of the game; Brayden Hale (Medical Lake) pitched really well," Ripke said. Cheney's Andrew Witt went 3 for 4 with a run scored for the Cannons.

"The better team did not win here unfortunately and this loss ended up coming back to bite us as it cost us the No. 1 seed out of our pod," Ripke said.

There was a lesson that came out of this pivotal outing.

"Again it proves that you have to play 21-out baseball and can't give extra outs, but you also can't assume that you have already won before the 21st out is recorded," Ripke said.

The Cannons scratched out just a pair of hits versus Billings, both from the WP contingent of Cory Wagner from Medical Lake and Cheney's Riley Jones.

"We saw a pretty good arm and responding back after a loss like that to Post Falls, they got on us early," Ripke said. "Those factors just kind of snowballed and we found ourselves in an early deficit that we just couldn't dig out of.

The turnaround began by hanging on to claim the win over NW Premier, seeing a 7-1 lead slip away as the home team scored four in the bottom of the seventh. But Wagner's bat - he was 3 for 4 - and his arm in relief where he got the game's final two outs, dropped NW Premier, which eventually advanced to the championship round Monday.

"We threw our No. 2 (arm) at them in Connor Grytdal (CV), and he threw the ball pretty darn well," Ripke said. Grytdal left with a 7-2 lead in the seventh and Dylan Vercoe from Medical Lake relieved him. Vercoe gave up three runs without recording an out, but Wagner came in to get the save.

The Cannons took just five innings to dispatch Edmonton as Jones (4 for 4, two runs scored and two RBIs) and Witt (3 for 3, three runs scored) paced the offense that put six runs on the board in the second inning after the Canadians got off to a fast start, leading 3-2 after the first.

"They got on us and (Cheney's) Julian Chabot early, but we came up and responded," Ripke said. "Then Julian settled in and the offense just kept rolling," securing the win with the help of the eight-run mercy rule.

Against the Lumbermen, Wagner pitched four innings, gave up just one earned run and delivered four strikeouts. He and Witt each had a pair of hits.

The next test for the Cannons comes this weekend when they travel to Whitefish, Mont. where the team were runners up in 2016.

Ripke is sensing the return of the mojo that took them to state in 2016. That trip is a short one this year with the AAA tournament being held July 22–27 at Al Jackson Field at Shadle High School.

"We are playing some of our best baseball of the season right now and we are coming to the tail end of our season, so hopefully come playoff time we can still be playing at our best," Ripke said,

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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