After dropping five of their last six baseball games, it looks like the Crook County Cowboys are finally going in the right direction again.
The Cowboys have struggled with their fielding in recent games, as they slipped from a tie for first place in the Tri-Valley Conference into a tie for third.
However, it looks like the Cowboys have corrected some of their mistakes as they won games this week at both Estacada, 5-2, and Corbett, 15-6.
"It was really important for us to do that," head coach Frank Martinez said of the two wins. "The guys are building their confidence back, and hopefully we can continue to play defense like we have been the last couple of games."
It didn't take the Cowboys long to get on the scoreboard on Monday, as leadoff hitter Josh Norris ripped a home run to open the game.
"We showed up at the game really strong and then the first at bat I was about four pitches in, and I hit a leadoff home run, which really got our team going," Norris said. "Then, we just kept going strong."
With Kyle Knudtson overpowering the Ranger hitters, the Cowboys opened up a lead, scoring one run each in the second, third and fourth innings to lead 4-0.
Estacada finally got on the board in the bottom of the fourth inning, taking advantage of a pair of Cowboy errors to score a run. The Rangers added another run in the bottom of the fifth as they closed to 4-2. However, Crook County added an insurance run in the sixth inning to up their lead to 5-2.
Heath Pickhardt came in to relieve Knudtson in the seventh, retiring the Rangers in order to earn the save.
Knudtson finished the game with 11 strikeouts, while giving up just five hits and walking three. Just one of the two runs he gave up was earned.
"It was huge," Norris said of the win over Estacada, which were tied with the Cowboys for third in the Tri-Valley Conference going into the contest. "Kyle pitched well, and we shut them down on the defensive side of the field."
Devin Wilson went three-for-four at the plate in the game, while Knudtson was two-for-three, and Brody Connell drove in three runs.
The Cowboys finished with nine hits in the game, compared to the five for Estacada.
Both the Cowboys and Rangers were 5-5 in league play heading into the game, but the Rangers also lost to Madras on Wednesday as the Cowboys now have a two-game lead over the fourth-place Rangers, who have fallen to 5-7 in conference play.
Wednesday, the Cowboys left no doubt who was the better team as they blasted out to a big early lead against the Cardinals, then played everyone on the roster as they cruised to an easy win.
Crook County scored three runs in the first inning with the big hit of the inning coming on a Connell double.
The Cowboys added five more runs in the second inning as they took control of the game.
Jacob Kasberger doubled with an out to start the rally. A walk and a Corbett error loaded the bases before Wilson singled to center, scoring two.
Then, with two outs, Heath Pickhardt scored on a wild pitch, while Connell went to third. Connell scored on a second wild pitch, before Hunter Bishop was hit by a pitch. Bishop then attempted to steal second, before the pitcher delivered his pitch. Corbett pitcher Dylan Oliver whirled and turned toward second to attempt to throw out Bishop as Crook County's first base coach yelled balk.
The umpires made no call as Oliver threw the ball over the shortstop's head into center field. Carson Smith scored from third, and Bishop raced all the way from first to home on the play.
Following what appeared to be two Crook County runs, the umpire angrily came to the Crook County dugout and yelled at Crook County's players to not yell balk, that the umpires would make that call. Then both coaches came onto the field to try to determine whether or not the umpires had called a balk.
After a lengthy discussion, the umpires put Bishop back on second, and did call a balk.
Bishop eventually stole third, then scored on a passed ball for the Cowboys' fifth run of the inning.
The Cowboys added two more runs in the third, one in the fourth, three in the fifth, and one in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Corbett tried to rally, scoring two in the fourth, two in the fifth, and one in the sixth.
Garret Bernard started on the mound for the Cowboys, giving up eight hits and five runs. Devin Bishop replaced him in the sixth inning, pitching one and a third inning before Carson Smith came in in the seventh to close out the game.
All three Crook County pitchers struck out two batters.
The three Cowboy batters walked just three Cardinals hitters, while giving up 10 hits and just two earned runs.
Meanwhile, Crook County finished with 11 hits and took advantage of seven walks and nine Corbett errors to score their runs.
Wilson and Norris were both three-for-four at the plate to lead the Cowboy efforts.
"We had a really good game," Wilson said. "The first three innings we were really strong. We had really good at bats, and I think the reason we scored so many runs is we just focused in at the plate, and we were pretty disciplined."
With the pair of victories, the Cowboys have improved to 7-5 in conference play and 13-10 overall, while Corbett fell to 0-12 in league and 0-17 overall.
The Cowboys host Molalla today, then close out the regular season with games Tuesday at Gladstone (12-0, 16-5) and a home contest Thursday against Madras (9-3, 14-6). All three games are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
Crook County 111 101 0 — 5 9 3
Estacada 000 110 0 — 2 5 3
Crook County 352 131 0 — 15 11 4
Estacada 100 221 0 — 6 10 4