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Crook County beats Madras 7-5 in regular season baseball finale

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Rivalry game goes to the Cowboys, who swept the White Buffalos in three meetings this season.

WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Crook County's Rowdie Dalton (4) scored the game's first run in the top of the first after Madras starting pitcher Aaron Winishut (red) sailed a pitch behind home plate.With Crook County and Madras carrying little to no hope of reaching a play-in game, Thursday's regular season baseball finale could have been uninspired. It wasn't.

The two teams appeared evenly matched, as evidenced by Crook County's first bout of runs and Madras' subsequent counterattacks.

The Cowboys struck first in the top of the first inning when Rowdie Dalton scored from third on an errant Madras pitch that got behind home plate.

In the bottom of the first, Madras got three hits and saw Cameron Rodriguez get on base after Crook County sophomore Diego Smith walked him. Kanim Smith sliced a single down the third-base line, scoring Tyler Lockey. Then, Liam White batted in Rodriguez from third.

Smith, who went 3 for 4 in the game, continued his season-long command at the plate as one of the White Buffalos' top hitters.

"His outs are loud outs; they are balls smoked at people," Madras head coach Sam McCormick said. "He's the ultimate team guy, I think, and he doesn't get the credit he deserves, but he has improved immensely over this year."

Crook County continued to rack up hits in the top of the second as three of its first four batters got on base. That's when Heath Pickhardt drove in a couple runs with a single to right field, and Kyle Smith followed suit with an RBI double — one of two doubles he hit on the afternoon — to give the Cowboys a 4-2 edge.

Madras countered with a two-run second inning of its own. The Buffs' two seniors started things off, with Damean Frank staying patient in the box to earn a walk, and Aaron Winishut's sacrifice bunt advancing him to second. Then, a wild pitch allowed Frank to get to third.

Next at the plate, Byron Patt hit a grounder to Carson Smith at third base, and Smith, trying to throw out Patt at first base, bobbled the ball and was unable to make the throw in time while Frank scored. Lockey singled to advance Patt to third. Then, Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to score Patt and tie the game 4-4.

Between the third and fifth innings, however, Madras was held scoreless despite a couple strong starts to innings. In the bottom of the fourth, for example, Lockey reached scoring position at second base with one out.

The next at bat, Rodriguez hit a fly ball to shallow right field that looked like it would find a hole in the defense. But right fielder Hunter Bishop dove head first to make what appeared to be an unlikely play. Lockey, who had already rounded third expecting to score, was thrown out at second, suddenly ending the inning. To McCormick, the play was the perfect summation of the Buffs' season.WILL DENNER/MADRAS PIONEER - Hunter Bishop's head first, diving catch in right field and subsequent double play suddenly halted the bottom of the fourth inning for Madras, and drew cheers from his teammates.

"Really our season was summed up in that (fourth) inning hit and run," McCormick said. "(Rodriguez) smokes a ball, we would've scored that run. (Bishop) lays out and makes the play of his life."

Crook County scored one run apiece in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings and out-hit Madras 11 to nine for the game.

"The last game, it's nice to end on a win," Martinez added. "Madras is a good ballclub. We hit the ball really well today — and had some errors — but hit the ball to make up for it."

At one instance during the top of the fourth, the infield umpire called for time and warned the Crook County dugout to stop talking to Madras players on the field, specifically Winishut on the mound. It was the culmination of an ongoing dialogue in each dugout, and gave the game an edge between the two longtime rivals.

"It's always been a rivalry between us," Kyle Smith said. "We've played together since we were 10, so we kind of know each other."

Crook County head coach Frank Martinez was quick to point out after the game that Madras swept the Cowboys in the three games played during the 2016 season. This year, the Cowboys returned the favor with three wins of their own.

"It was very important for us," Martinez said of winning the last game. "To have a successful season was great for these guys."

"We ended with a win," Smith added. "That's all that matters."

Meanwhile, Madras finished with a 7-16, 6-9 Tri-Valley Conference record. It was a tough season for a team that felt it was good enough to take another step following last year's run to a play-in game for the first time in McCormick's tenure as head coach.

Perhaps one of the things the Buffs underestimated was the transfer of leadership from last year's senior class of Bryce Rehwinkel, Austin Rauschenberg, Sean Leriche and Howard Bell-Raines to the current junior class.

"It's easy to lead us in the right direction, but when it's up to you, it's hard to figure out how to find that voice," McCormick said. "It's extremely difficult for a high school kid to do it, because it's not always smiles and laughs. Sometimes you have to get after each other to really get that right product on the field. We're just learning each other — that's all it is."

Aside from the record, the individual development of players, particularly those with little varsity experience, made the season a success, McCormick said.

"The unfortunate part is, people just look at the record and say, 'Oh, they must be bad,'" he said. "But if you look at each individual and how much they grew over the year, I think the year was extremely successful."

Contact Will Denner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow him on Twitter @MadrasSports, @WillCDenner