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Cowboys score four runs in the fifth, and explode for seven in the sixth as they pound 17 hits in victory

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County's Brody Connell slides safely into third. The Cowboys came from behind to defeat the Indians 17-8 in Tri-Valley Conference action Friday afternoon in Prineville.

After spotting the Molalla Indians four early runs, the Crook County Cowboys came storming back to outscore the Indians in a wild, high-scoring game, taking a 17-8 victory in a key Tri-Valley Conference baseball game.

"It was big," said Crook County catcher Heath Pickhardt of the Friday win. "We have struggled with that, with having rough first innings, and having to come back. But we stayed in the game and we did it."

Both teams hit the ball well, but both teams struggled with errors.

"I think we did pretty well for the majority of the game," said Molalla's A.J. Deardorff. "I just think that defensively, we made a few errors and then it got away from us at times."

The Indians broke on top in the first inning when leadoff hitter Dylan Wynn tripled off of Crook County starter Augustus Williams. Wynn then scored on a wild pitch, giving Molalla an early lead.

The Indians took advantage of Crook County miscues to score again in the second inning.

With one out, Kolten Jordon reached base on an error and then went to second on a throwing error by Williams on a pickoff attempt. Deardorff then reached base on an infield single, putting runners on the corners.

Matt Stephens then hit a ground ball to Williams, who fell down then was late attempting to throw home as Jordon scored. A Wynn bunt moved Deardorff to third and Stephens to second before Jeff Larsen doubled to center, scoring a pair of runs.

The Cowboys came back to score a run in the bottom half of the inning as Diego Smith singled to open the inning, eventually scoring on a Will Combee sacrifice fly.

The Cowboys hit Molalla's starting pitcher Jeff Larsen hard in the third inning, scoring four runs in the process.

Josh Norris reached base on an infield single before Pickhardt blasted a two-run homer.

Larsen then hit Kyle Knudtson with a pitch before Smith ripped a double to center. Knudtson rounded third on the play and was tagged out when he failed to get back to the bag quickly enough.

Smith later stole third and finally scored on a wild pitch. Hunter Bishop scored the final run of the inning, reaching base on an error and eventually scoring on the second Molalla error of the inning.

"This year, we have had a lot of games where we have had some good starts," Molalla head coach Jim Dantona said. "It just seems like somehow when it comes to our defensive part of the game, we just don't play it, and our pitching has never quite come around to where it should be. I love these kids, and I really love coaching them, but there's something about the nature of the game."

Trailing 5-4, it didn't take the Indians long to respond.

Molalla answered with three runs of their own in the top of the fourth inning.

Deardorff walked to start the rally. Then, with one out, Wynn singled to right. Williams hit Larsen with a pitch, loading the bases. Braden Hibbs hit a ground ball to third baseman Devin Wilson, who threw home for the second out of the inning, before Linden Mackenzie doubled, scoring the Indians' first two runs if the inning.

Devin Bishop came in to relieve Williams, giving up one more run, before pitching his way out of the jam.

Damian Pingo came in to relieve Larsen to start the bottom of the fourth inning and immediately gave up a single to Norris. Norris then appeared to steal second as Molalla's second baseman missed the tag. However, the umpire called Norris out.

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Molalla's Linden Mackenzie tags Crook County's Diego Smith out at third base.Crook County head coach Frank Martinez came on the field to question the call to no avail. However, the play seemed to wake the Cowboys up.

"It sparked us up a little bit and it got the team going," Martinez said of the play. "They wanted to win, so yeah, it did spark us."

Pickhardt then walked and scored on a Wilson triple as the Cowboys pulled to within a pair of runs at 7-5.

With Bishop shutting down the Molalla offense, the Cowboys took the lead for good in the fifth inning, as they took advantage of walks and errors to score four runs in the inning. Brody Connell scored to start the Cowboy rally, then with the bases loaded and nobody out, Dantona pulled his entire infield in onto the grass, hoping to get the lead runner.

However, Payton Faust pushed a ball up the middle, scoring the second run of the inning. Then, with the bases still loaded, Pickhardt hit a double to the left field fence, scoring two more runs.

"It felt awesome," Martinez said of the comeback. "We started putting pressure on their defense more, and we started being picky at the bat. We were trying to be too aggressive at the plate and then we just kind of settled down a little bit, and we started being aggressive on the base path and started being selective at the plate."

Molalla added a final run in the sixth inning as Larsen singled and eventually scored on a Crook County error.

However, the Cowboys responded with seven runs of their own in the bottom half of the inning off of Molalla reliever Matt Roark.

The Cowboys had five singles in the inning but took advantage of three Molalla errors, two stolen bases, two walks and an intentional walk as they put the game away.

"I have to be honest with you under the pressure we kind of buckled," Dantona said. "It's not easy for a coach to say that about his own team, we just don't do it. We had a couple of leads here today, and we just let them go."

Then, in the top of the seventh, Pickhardt moved from behind the plate to the pitcher's mound, retiring the side in order to earn the save.

Molalla finished with eight runs on 12 hits, while the Cowboys scored 17 runs on 17 hits. Both teams made seven errors in the game, however, Crook County did a better job of minimizing the damage from those errors.

For the Cowboys, Pickhardt was three-for-three at the plate with a home run and a double, while Norris was three-for-four, Connell went two-for-three, Smith was two-for-four, Garett Bernard was two-for-two, and Wilson was three-for-five with a pair of triples.

For the Indians, Larsen went three-for-four at the plate, while Deardorff was two-for-two, and both Wynn and Mackenzie were two-for-four.

With the win, the Cowboys wrapped up no worse than third place in the Tri-Valley Conference, guaranteeing at least a play-in game.

"It takes the pressure off," Martinez said of wrapping up no worse than third place in the league. "It's still a big deal, catching Madras, I would like to finish second in the league, that would be nice. We have to just keep working hard and eliminate the errors, and I think we have a chance at it."

The Cowboys are 8-5 in league and 14-10 overall, with two games remaining in the regular season. Crook County plays at league-leading Gladstone on Tuesday, then host second-place Madras Thursday in the season finale.

Meanwhile, Molalla fell to 3-10 in league and 7-14 overall. The Indians close out the league season with a home game Tuesday against Estacada and a road game at Corbett on Thursday.

Molalla 230 301 0 - 8 12 7

Crook County 014 147 x - 17 17 7

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