Aug 6, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorA solid group of players led by a new manager has the local American Legion club on the rise following a winning season and a runner-up finish at the state tournament.
When new Riverton Raiders manager Troy Brown held his first players meeting in February, the snow and ice blanketing the landscape outside did nothing to dim the spirits of those in the room.
Brown asked those gathered one simple question.
"What is your goal for this season?"
Ridge McCoy stood up, and his answer was short and succinct.
"Win state," he said, matter-of-factly.
According to Brown, at that moment, he knew exactly what he had in his new club.
"What I liked was the determination of the players," said Brown. "They're an incredibly hard-working group and proved it all season."
Fast-forward to August and, although the Raiders came up just short of the stated goal, they certainly had an excellent season, with an overall record of 36-18, including 10-6 in A West conference play and a runner-up finish at the state tournament.
When the regular season began on the second weekend of May, the Raiders found themselves in Green River for a tournament to kick off the new campaign.
First up was a contest against Evanston and Riverton acquitted themselves quite well on the field of battle with an 8-7 victory, which included holding off a furious, last-inning fightback by the Outlaws after having surged ahead with a five-run frame in the fifth for a 7-2 lead.
The Raiders banged out 11 hits in the game, as Dillon Fabricus led the offense with a 3-for-4 performance including a triple and a pair of runs batted in.
Dalton Baldes pitched six strong innings in his first start of the season, throwing 98 pitches before Jereko Martinez and Alex Fabricus teamed up in the seventh to close the game.
The contest provided a nutshell preview of what was in store for the road up ahead, with a high-powered offense providing plenty of runs up and down the entire lineup, with dominant starting pitching and capable relievers to close the deal.
What it also provided was a look at what his squad needed to improve upon in order to be successful, said Brown.
"The Evanston game really showed us what we needed to work on going forward," he said. "Especially our approach to hitting."
Riverton followed up its initial victory of the season with another, by a score of 10-3 against host Green River, then dropped a pair of contests on Sunday, against AA competition in Jackson and Rock Springs.
After the season-opening split on the road, the Raiders returned to Roy Peck Field to open the home portion of their schedule as Rawlins came calling for a non-league doubleheader.
Brown's club made quick work of the Generals, winning by scorelines of 10-4 and 12-2.
Matt Fisher began the game on the mound and delivered four solid innings of work before Dillon Fabricus took the ball and proceeded to strike out eight Rawlins batters in only three innings to finish the game.
In the second game, Baldes picked up where Dillon Fabricus had left off in the first game, setting nine hitters down on strikes in five frames of work, as Josiah Washington drove in four runs with a double and a triple on the day.
Next up for the Raiders was a visit from Cody, perennial powerhouse and a team Riverton hadn't defeated in four years.
It would certainly be an early-season test for a squad who was feeling good about themselves with a 4-2 record entering A West conference play with a doubleheader against the Cubs.
Safe to say, the Raiders didn't fail the exam, but didn't pass with flying colors, either, dropping both games by scores of 14-5 and 7-1.
It was clear although the Raiders were already much-improved, they still had a way to go to be able to match up with Wyoming's elite clubs, said Brown.
"From then on for the rest of the season, we were a different team," he said. "I truly believe that's one of the reasons we did what we were able to do the rest of the season. We just continued to push forward and play."
Defending home ground
The following weekend featured the Raiders' home tournament with the annual Roy Peck Invitational, during which they would play host to five other clubs over the three-day event.
Following a 7-3 win against Casper to kick off the festivities on Friday, the Raiders lost to Douglas, 10-7 on Saturday, falling back to .500 at 5-5 on the season in the process, which set up an elimination game in the form of a contest against Evanston on Sunday.
Riverton wasted no time in breaking out of the gates with a four-run first inning, highlighted by a Dillon Fabricus double which plated a pair of runs and a Dillon Lange RBI single for another two markers.
It was all the offense the Raiders would produce on the day, but it was all they needed, as they held on for a rugged 4-3 win behind the pitching of Fisher, who allowed only a single earned run in four innings, followed by Roden, who finished the game with three scoreless frames of relief.
The victory set up a rematch with Douglas for the tourney title later in the day and this time the Raiders were more than ready for the Cats in an 11-5 win.
After falling behind quickly after a five-run Douglas first, the Raiders scored a pair of runs in the fourth, but still trailed 5-2 entering the sixth.
Nine Riverton runs later, which made 11 unanswered in the game and the home side lifted the trophy in triumph.
Victory was punctuated by a Roden grand slam, which brought the Raiders back from a 5-3 deficit to a 7-5 advantage to go with 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief on the mound in addition to having thrown three scoreless frames earlier in the day in the win against Evanston.
So, the equivalent of a shutout on the mound and a grand slam in the same afternoon.
Not a bad day at the office.
The victory was one of three tournaments the Raiders would go on to win, with additional triumphs in Green River and Douglas.
Roden was one of a trio of Raiders who arrived after the season had begun once the Riverton Wolverines track campaign had come to an end, along with Kyren Higgs and Jaren Draper, adding power and speed to an already-potent lineup.
For Brown, the addition of the three provided exactly what his team needed at exactly the right time, he said.
"Getting those guys was a huge boost for us," said Brown. "Especially Brodie with how he would get on base and be a nightmare for the defense -- the pitcher was more worried about what he was going to do on the basepaths than he was with the hitter."
However, one constant who was also a member of Big Red's track squad, but who was in the Riverton lineup from the get-go was Cody Frazier, who led the Raiders with a .430 batting average, 54 runs batted in and 61 runs scored.
Along with offense, Frazier provided excellent defense at his customary third-base position, but also showed a willingness to do what was best for the team, seeing time in the outfield and even pitching when called upon.
Of all his players, Frazier was the one who bought into the new hitting approach which was employed early on in the season, which featured patience and better pitch selection, said Brown.
"Cody was one person who really took to our new hitting philosophy," he said.
"What he did at the plate this season was fantastic, not to mention his defense. He's just really intelligent and knowledgable about the game and I'm looking forward to what he can do for us in the future."
Following victory at their home tournament, the Raiders never even dropped to .500 again the entire rest of the season, including a nine-game winning streak.
During the second half of the season, Riverton traveled north for a rematch with its longtime nemesis in Cody, which finally resulted in a win over the Cubs for the first time in four years in a 7-5 victory, a game in which the Raiders fell behind, 4-0, in the opening inning, only to fight their way all the way back, as Frazier drove home three runs.
Coming down the stretch run of the regular season, Riverton regularly scored double-digit runs resulting in scorelines more suitable for the gridiron than the diamond.
For the season, the Raiders averaged 8.4 runs per game, as they finished second in the A West conference and was the second seed from the west at the state tournament in Cowley, where they ultimately went 3-2, with both defeats at the hands of eventual state-champions Cody.
Brown described the journey of the entire season in one word.
"Resiliency," he said. "Our guys never got too excited with success or down with failure."
The Raiders beat every other A squad in the state and posted wins against several AA clubs as well, on their way to a successful campaign.
For Brown, the entire season was a measuring stick of how far his club has already come, but also provided a blueprint for where they want to go as a program, he said.
"We want to build ourselves into a formidable force, not only in Wyoming, but throughout the region," said Brown. "This is one of the best groups I've coached in my entire career -- they exude confidence and I'm very proud of them."
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