LANDER – Throughout the years the Lander Lobos Senior Babe Ruth baseball team has been known for their Mother’s Day Tournament, bringing multiple teams from around Wyoming to Lander City Park, but this year they decided to double down and create the first-ever Father’s Day Tournament. 

On the first night of the tournament there was celebrations galore, starting with the inaugural “Poppy Sportsmanship Award” which was named after a grandfather of a Gillette Rage player who helped the Lobos and the entire baseball community before passing away this past year. After that award was given to the Rage, the team who will be forever linked to the award, there was also the announcement that a 50-50 raffle was raising funds all weekend long for a Riverton citizen who is searching for their second kidney transplant in their 22-year old life. 

Laiton Ivey, who has been known to frequent the baseball diamond and the skateparks, is looking to replace the kidney he received from his mother nearly 20 years and was helped with over $1,000 raised during the three days of play.

The tournament pinned seven teams, including the Lobos, against one another starting Friday night with Rock Springs and the Gillette Rage, ending in extra innings. At the end of the game the Rage put up three runs while the Spartans could not get any more up on the scoreboard, starting the Rage team full of former Lobos’ players with a victory. 

Kaden Rowen slid into third Friday night agaisnt Griver River in City Park. (p/c Carl Cote)

Afterwards, the home team Lobos took to the diamond to take on the Green River Raptors and began the tournament with a bang. 17-year old Darrius Boyer started off on the mound for Lander and instantly threw three-straight swinging strikeouts, helping force the Raptors to play defense. 

Then, three batters into the Lobos’ rotation, it was Evan Stephenson up to bat just a few hours removed from signing with Ottawa University (see the story here) and celebrating his 18th birthday with his teammates. On Stephenson’s first pitch the Lander Valley All-American went yard to left field, dinging one past the fence for his second home run of the season (below). 

Coach Shannon Stephenson reached over the third base line to give his son, Evan, a high five after his first inning homer. (p/c Carl Cote)

Lander inflated the lead to 2-0 before letting Green River back in the batter’s box, but the damage was done psychologically and it showed throughout the game as the Lobos scored three in the next inning and a demoralizing nine runs in the third. Home field advantage definitely helped the Lobos that late night, boosting them to 1-0 on the weekend with their 14-3 victory. 

Boyer ended up striking out eight of the eleven batters he faced while walking two and only allowing one hit. Stephenson’s home run would be one of six hits on the night for the Lobos. 

The next day the Lobos had two games, starting at noon against the Casper Crosshairs whom they defeated handily (20-3 and 9-7) the week prior to the tournament. Much like the night before, the Lobos started off hot early with seven runs in the bottom of the first. 

Connor Higginbotham almost outran his helmet Friday night in Lander. (p/c Carl Cote)

It all began with Connor Higginbotham (above) bringing in one run on a fly ball and was added to by players like Josh Binns, Sam Bush and Boyer. Lander only allowed one run in the next inning, making it 7-1 the next time that Stephenson stepped up to the plate. When Stephenson stepped back into the batter’s box he let another ball go deep, homering for the second time in as many games and putting any Crosshairs’ comeback attempt in the dirt. 

After ten more runs passed home plate for the Lobos the mercy rule was enforced, ending the game with an 18-1 victory for the Lobos to make them 2-0 on the weekend and automatically enter them into the semifinals. 

Higginbotham pitched all three innings, striking out five Crosshairs players and only allowing one hit, he also had the best game hitting as he went three-for-three with two RBIs. 

Everybody sat and watched the next game, the Rage vs Glenrock, due to the fact that the Lobos’ former teammates Paxton Rees and Keegan Stephenson were rocking the gold-and-black of Gillette for the weekend due to age restrictions. After the Rage handled business the Lobos went back on the field for the last game of the night, facing off against the Cheyenne Coyotes under the bright lights. 

Cheyenne proved to be much tougher than the previous two opponents for the Lobos, starting off the first inning with a run thanks to a passed ball that led to the stealing of home. Lander responded though, scoring one run on a fielder’s choice that ended with Stephenson being called out after not tagging the base before running. 

Stephenson continued to pitch well all throughout the game, striking out five batters in the first two innings, but sadly the bats for Cheyenne started to come alive. Even worse, a few errors allowed the Coyotes to build a lead that reached 5-1 before the next time Lander was up to bat. Both pitchers found their stride throughout the next few innings, recording multiple strikeouts and not allowing any runs until Lander finally put one up in the bottom of the fourth.

As the time limit expired the Lobos put up another two runs after a costly mistake at first base for Cheyenne, but they would still end up losing 5-4 with the tying run left on second base. 

Stephenson’s day on the mound may have ended in a loss but his stats and play would never make one feel that way. He ended with 12 strikeouts through 24 batters (50% strikeout percentage) and only allowed two hits. The future Ottawa Brave also had the best day in the box, going two-for-three with a home run and a double. 

That late night loss pushed the Lobos into the 12 p.m. game the final day against the Gillette Rage and their two Lander Lobos alumnus. 

In that game the Lobos could not seem to buy a hit until the third inning after they were already down 9-0. The third inning would end up being the only inning that the Lobos found paydirt, putting up one run on a ground ball single by Higginbotham and erasing the goose egg from the scoreboard. 

After four innings the Rage put up 14 runs compared to that one by Lander, sending the Rage to the championship game where they faced off against Rock Springs. 

Rock Springs, who won the Lobos’ Mother’s Day Tournament earlier this year, started off strong by going up 1-0 but the Rage continued their hot batting streak and quickly put up four runs before letting Rock Springs back into it. The Gillette team finished the game on a run, beating the Spartans by a score of 10-8 and helping two former Lobos win the championship on their former turf. 

By: Shawn O’Brate