Dillon Cubs take four straight Legion wins at home

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Two for two

Dillon Cubs Pete Gibson awaits a throw at second base during a game against the Helena Reps last week, when the Cubs swept a pair of doubleheaders in Dillon. M.P. Regan photo

The ‘boom-boom’ of fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend in Dillon got replaced by the sound of the big broom midweek, when the Dillon Cubs swept a pair of visitors in a pair of home doubleheaders.

The Cubs defeated the Helena Reps, 9-6 and 14-13 on Wednesday at Ray Lynch Park, where they doubled-up the Livingston Braves, 12-2 and 7-4, the following day.

“We’re definitely on the upswing now,” said senior Pete Gibson of his Cubs after last week’s quartet of wins.

“Things were a little rough for us at the beginning of the season. But we’ve been hitting really well the last few games,” added Gibson, one of the Cubs who delivered at the plate and on the mound last week.

Working his way out of deep trouble on several occasions, Gibson persevered for a complete-game victory while limiting Livingston to two runs and striking out seven in Thursday’s opener.

In the meantime, Gibson and his teammates went off for a dozen runs to notch the ten-run mercy rule win clinched in the bottom of the sixth inning when Cole Johnston frozen-roped a hit to left field.

“We moved Cole from the leadoff spot to the second position in the batting order, and he’s really relished that role. He is hitting the ball hard—hitting it to the fence,” said Dillon Head Coach Greg Fitzgerald of the extra work in the batting cage in practice that is leading to Johnston gaining a lot of extrabase hits in games.

“We are seeing pitches really well now and getting into a rhythm. That’s what hitting is—getting into a rhythm and staying in it,” commented Johnston, whose 11 for 16 showing at the plate with 8 RBIs last week included the game-winning hit in Thursday’s opener to bring home Cub rookie Dean Smith.

“It was my first time hitting the ball to get on base,” said Smith, who reached first after hitting a hard grounder up the middle that brought home the Cubs 11th run a few minutes before he crossed the plate for the game clincher in the wake of Johnston’s hit to the left-field fence.

“It felt amazing,” said the seventh-grader Smith, one of a group of young Cubs who have made big contributions in recent weeks after getting pressed into service following injuries to teammates last month.

“You have to have guys who can hit, one through nine in the batting order. I am really pleased with our young guys and their development,” said Fitzgerald, who also got runproducing hits last week from young Cubs Colin Herman and Tyler Lagunas.

“Colin has that hitter’s mentality—he’s aggressive. We like that,” stated Fitzgerald, who got one of the Cub season’s finest pitching performances from one of his staff veteran’s in Thursday’s second win for Dillon.

“I felt like I had pretty good stuff today,” under-stated Jace Fitzgerald, who overpowered Brave batters with a blazing fastball when he wasn’t paralyzing them with a curveball so tight it acted much like a slider—while getting invaluable aid from catcher Cole Pulliam on deciding which pitch to throw in each situation.

“He calls the pitches,” said Jace of his battery mate.

“I don’t think I shook him off one time today. We know each other really well now and how to attack hitters down the order,” said Jace of Pulliam, the Cubs first-string catcher for the past three seasons.

“He was phenomenal out there today,” said Livingston Head Coach Allen Suvareid of Dillon’s staff ace Fitzgerald, who notched 13 strikeouts against the Braves.

Even with Fitzgerald’s stellar pitching performance, Livingston clawed halfway to a comeback in the last inning of Thursday’s second game.

Down seven runs after six innings and heading for a quick shutout loss, Suvareid and his Braves found a way to shake up Thursday’s second game in their final at-bat—by running at every opportunity.

“Our fast guys were on base, so I just let them go and I couldn’t believe it worked as well as it did. We pulled it together and gave them a little shiver,” added the first-year Livingston skipper, whose team used stolen bases and extra opportunities afforded by Cub errors to score four unearned, unlikely runs before reliever Connor Cunow doused the odd rally, recording the final put out solo by grabbing a ground ball and taking it to first base himself, just to make sure.

“I thought we played really well for 12 and 2/3 innings today,” said Head Coach Fitzger ald of his team’s late lapse after a day of good glove work.

‘We just had a third of an inning in which we made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Fortunately, we had a big lead. But overall I thought we played re ally well defensively.”

The Cubs played particularly well with their gloves the day before in the top of the fourth inning of Wednesday’s second game, when Curnow dove to his left to snare a sharp grounder, then rose to throw out the batter at first.

That would have constituted Dillon’s defensive play of the week had CF Johnston not outdone it two batters later.

“I saw that it was hit hard in the gap,” recalled Johnston of a ball laced into left-centerfield by Helena’s Quinn Belcher.

“I like to think that any time there’s a ball hit hard into the outfield that I have a chance to get there,” said Johnston, who did just that with a quick sprint and dive to his right, making a catch so impressive that several Helena players high-fived him on his way to the Cub dugout.

Still, the Cubs trailed by five runs heading into the bottom half the fifth inning, when their bats awoke to clobber the Reps for nine runs that put Dillon into the lead for good.

Jace Fitzgerald started the revival by pole-axeing a 2-0 fastball to the left-field fence for an RBI double that would have cleared that fence for a home run—had he not connected so perfectly with it.

“I didn’t quite get the launch angle right,” smiled Jace of the screeching line drive. “It was a little too low.”

Herman hit another line drive to left field later in the inning to bring in a run, and then Gibson delivered the go-ahead hit by jumping all over an inside pitch and sending it rocketing over the head of the Rep third baseman to bring home two teammates and give Dillon the lead for good, 8-7.

“I saw it coming and liked it,” said Gibson of the fastball he sent back in the other direction at a greater rate of speed.

Lagunas and Gibson hit RBI singles to provide Dillon with a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, before Gibson came on to record the last two outs in relief in the Cubs’ one-run win.

“I take pride that Coach Fitzgerald gives me the opportunity to do that,” said Gibson of his often filling the team’s closer role in tight games this season.

“He gives you what you expect out of a senior leader,” said Coach Fitzgerald of Gibson, who plugs into a number of key defensive positions on the team, depending on where he’s needed most.

“Pete’s been in the Cubs program for a long time. He continues to be a leader.”

Wednesday’s first game also ended in victory for the hosts, thanks in largest part to a gutsy pitching performance from Pulliam, who did whatever it took on the mound after travelling there from his usual defensive position behind home plate.

“I thought Cole Pulliam pitched an outstanding game on Wednesday,” said Coach Fitzgerald of his top catcher’s pitching performance, one made more impressive, not to mention challenging, by the bevy of errors committed behind him.

“He didn’t get shaken up, that was the biggest thing. There were a lot of times when Helena guys got on base due to errors, and he just gritted his teeth and got the next guy out,” said Fitzgerald of Pulliam, who has developed this season into one of the team’s top pitchers.

“Cole would tell you he didn’t have as good a stuff today as he had last week, but he made it work,” said the Cubs skipper of Pulliam’s complete-game outing and leading role in the Cubs’ three-run win over Helena on Wednesday that jumpstarted the team’s best week of the season so far.

“Right now is the best time for us to heat up. The last few years, we started out a little slow, but once we figure our stuff out, we get on a roll,” said Johnston, a veteran starter for Dillon.

“And that’s where we’re going now. Once we get rolling, it’s hard for us to lose.”

Next up for the Cubs, a 1 p.m. showdown with the Belgrade Bandits on Saturday, July 18, at Ray Lynch Park in Dillon.