The Casper Horseheads brought a secret weapon with them on Tuesday night to the Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark: pitcher Roberto Diaz.
After allowing his second home run of the game in the second inning, Diaz was virtually unhittable. From that point, he recorded six strikeouts while only allowing two hits and a walk through the duration of his start. Badlands would not strike again offensively against the Horseheads (14-14) for the rest of the game, which it lost 12-2.
“You guys saw the best he’s ever thrown,” Horseheads head coach Scott Stover said postgame. “He still wanted to stay in the game, but he’s not conditioned to do that. No coach in this league is trying to win games over trying to protect arms.”
Diaz proved wily and hard to predict during a stretch where he retired 10 of 11 batters during the middle frames.
“He was good, he was mixing all three pitches for strikes, he had a really good change-up,” Badlands head coach Hayden Pewitt said. “We have a pretty good offense but he was throwing really well.”
Diaz is a player whom Coach Stover has known for many years now, having recruited him out of high school onto his junior college team. However, luck had it that he never really had a chance to pitch until relatively recently, when injury created opportunity.
“This summer we had 11 guys to start the season with … (Diaz) threw an inning here, an inning there,” Stover said. “We had two starters get hurt two weeks ago, so we gave him a spot start against Spearfish and he threw five in two-thirds and only gave out two runs, so I asked if he’d like to be on the rotation.”
Diaz’s pitching was on point, but Casper’s first baseman Jackson Collins led his team at the plate, launching a pair of home runs. Collins’ first homer came in the first inning, giving the Horseheads a 2-0 lead and setting the tone for the game’s opening frames.
In addition to his solo shot in the third, which warranted a bat flip, Collins was 5-for-6 on the night with three RBIs and four runs scored.
Badlands responded in kind with centerfielder Bryson Ford sending up a home run of his own in the bottom of the first. He’d be joined in the second inning with a homer by designated hitter Gabe Knowles. The two teams combined for five home runs in the first three frames.
Casper racked up runs consistently through the fourth frame, where the Horseheads went at a hard gallop. A single from Collins loaded the bases and a follow-up hit by right fielder Jackson Brown nearly cleared them, sending everyone but Collins home and bringing him to third.
Badlands struggled to find a pitcher who could compete with Casper, burning through a pair of arms before Joe Smith proved the man of the hour, subbing in halfway through the fourth inning and managing to wrench back the Horseheads’ momentum and bring some calm to the game. During his four innings on the mound, he did not allow an earned run until the top of the eighth. Casper went scoreless from the fifth to the seventh.
“We’ve been needing (Smith) to get a longer outing and tonight was really good for him, he really performed and that’s what we’re looking to see out of him is competing in the zone,” Pewitt said. “I thought he was really good tonight against a really good offensive club that was swinging it all day and then you come in and shut the door.”
Coach Stover said that conditions at Badland’s home park can be conducive to hitting well, which may have contributed to the home run derby at the start.
“I think some of our guys were trying to get really big. Fortunately they got balls elevated, that’s not always going to be the case. At our place, Badlands eliminated a lot of baseballs,” Stover said, adding that he didn’t think he’d be able to repeat this outcome at their next game. “I think it was just good timing for us, I wouldn’t expect this to happen tomorrow, I know they’ll have some pretty good arms, so we’re going to just have to focus at having good at-bats and not try to see balls over the scoreboard fence.”
Badlands will be at home the next couple of games, taking on Casper Wednesday and Thursday night, both games starting at 6:30 p.m.