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Cowboys score four runs in the fifth and seven more in the sixth to break open what had been a close game

LON AUSTIN/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Molalla second baseman Jeff Larsen attempts to tag Crook County's Josh Norris as he steals second base. Larsen appeared to miss the tag, but Norris was called out on the play. The call seemed to ignite the Cowboys who scored four runs in the fifth inning and seven in the sixth as they pulled away for a 17-8 victory. After spotting Molalla 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.

The Indians took advantage of Cowboy miscues to score a run in the first inning and three more in the second as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead.

The Cowboys came back to score a run in the bottom half of the second 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.

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

The Indians scored three runs of their own in the fourth inning to jump back on top, 7-4.

Devin Bishop came in to relieve Augustus Williams midway through the inning and was able to pitch his way out of the inning.

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 looked to have missed the tag. However, the umpire called Norris out.

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 Devin 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, Molalla head coach Jim 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.

With the win, the Cowboys 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.

Molalla 130 301 0 — 8 12 7

Crook County 014 147 x — 17 17 7

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