Six Mustangs named to West All-Conference team

David Peck
A solid 22-win season and strong postseason run has led to six Lovell Mustangs being selected to the American Legion Baseball Class A West All-Conference team.

An additional player received honorable mention recognition.

The Wyoming Class A All-state team will be announced this weekend.

Named to the first team all-conference squad by a vote of conference coaches were Carlos Rodriguez, Tucker Jackson, Lafe Files and Alex Hedges. Cale Wright and Jacob Bischoff were named to the second team, and Beto Diaz-Rios received honorable mention recognition, having received votes.

Rodriguez, of Greybull, was named first team all-conference for the third consecutive year. The shortstop and pitcher led the Mustangs with a .413 batting average, .500 on-base percentage, .573 slugging percentage and 1.073 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). He led the team with 59 hits, 13 doubles, five triples and 56 runs. He was second on the team in runs batted in with 46. He was a standout shortstop defensively.

Rodriguez also saw action in 14 games on the mound, starting six, forging a 4-2 record with one save and a 2.95 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings of work he allowed 37 hits, walked 16 and struck out 52.

“Carlos did what we’ve come to expect Carlos to do,” manager Michael Jameson said. “He hits for a high average with a lot of RBIs and runs, and it seems like he’s always on base. Defensively, he’s a steady, reliable glove at shortstop, and on the mound he took a bigger role. Carlos is obviously one of the best baseball players around and in Class A.

“Carlos can hit the ball all over the field – line drives to left, right and center. He has a good approach at the plate and hits the ball hard. With his instincts and speed, he’s tough on the bases. He causes a lot of problems and puts a lot of pressure on defenses.”

Rodriguez is also an effective, if quiet, team leader, Jameson said, noting, “I think everybody loves Carlos. Around the state he’s one of those kids everybody knows. You say Carlos and everybody knows who he is. He doesn’t say a lot. He just smiles and puts his head down and goes to work, but I think everybody respects what he’s done and the way he does things. He leads by example and work and the way he does things. He’s a good leader and a good kid to have on the team.”

Jackson was named to the first team all-conference team for the first time after being selected to the second team in 2021 and honorable mention in 2022. He played center field and pitched for the Mustangs.

He led the team with 47 RBIs and batted .311 with a .416 on base percentage, .485 slugging percentage and .901 OPS. He hit nine doubles, four triples and two home runs to go with 30 runs and 10 stolen bases.

Jackson also pitched in 14 games, starting 12, earning a 5-4 record with a 2.48 ERA. In 59 1/3 innings he allowed 52 hits, walked 30 and fanned a team high 85. Teams batted only .217 against him.

“Tucker had a big year for us,” Jameson said. “We saw a lot of growth from him at the plate and on the mound. He continued to improve on the mound and kind of turned into our ace. Offensively, he started hitting for some more power and (higher) average, and defensively I think he got healed up a little more from the knee injury. He was back to moving really well and was athletic.

“He did a heck of a job for us in center field and continues to develop on the mound. I saw a big increase in his velocity. He put a lot of time in the weight room, and he continued developing his pitches and (ability to) execute them.”

Like Jackson, Files was a strong starter on the mound for the Mustangs, pitching in 15 games and starting 10. He recorded a 6-3 record with a 3.54 ERA and struck out 34 batters with 21 walks. When not pitching he played multiple positions in the field for the team.

Offensively, Files – a second-team all-conference selection a year ago -- batted .272 with two doubles and 22 RBIs. He stole 12 bases.

“Lafe was kind of our co-ace, along with Tucker, on the mound,” Jameson said. “He was one of those guys we talked about all year just being pretty reliable, consistent and steady for us. I think he understands the type of pitcher he is. He’s not the type that’s going to come in and have double-digit strikeouts, but he’ll come in like he did in that Evanston game (in the district tournament) and throw a complete game on 75 pitches and only give up a couple of hits. I think he’s embraced who he is as a pitcher and really is excelling and finding ways to be successful.

“I think he’s a smart pitcher and understands his strengths and uses those to his advantage. Offensively, he did a good job for us, especially down the stretch. He was one of those guys who always came up with runners on base with two outs, and I felt more often than not he was coming up with the big hit to drive those runs in. Defensively, he was a guy we played all over the field at different points. He played some third base, the outfield and catcher and pitcher and even saw a little time at first base.”

Hedges, earning first-team all-conference honors for the second year in a row, was another versatile player for the Mustangs. He hit .286 and had a .407 on base percentage and an .821 OPS with seven doubles, one triple and a team-leading three home runs. He drove in 19 runs and scored 40. He stole 11 bases.

He pitched in a team-leading 17 games, starting four, and finished with a 4-3 record with one save and a 3.97 ERA with 42 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 42 1/3 innings pitched.

“Other than first base, he probably played everywhere this year,” Jameson said. “Alex is another kids that took a big step forward this year. Alex has some streaks of up-and-down baseball where he got real hot during the Green River tournament and turned into a guy it seemed like you could never get out, and defensively he was a kid who could play anywhere and did a good job for us on the mound.

“He was a solid, reliable kid we could bring in in any situation and offensively did a good job for us down the stretch hitting in the three spot where he could drive in runs. He had a heck of a year for us. He was another fast kid with pretty good instincts on the bases – just a good baseball player.”

Second team

Wright, of Greybull, received all-conference honors for the second straight year. He hit .298 on the season as the starting second baseman, with five doubles and 24 runs batted in, scoring 28 runs. He also pitched in nine games, starting five.

Jameson called Wright an invaluable player on the team.

“Cale did a lot of things really consistently,” Jameson said. “He had a steady, calming influence, just a kid with a good head on his shoulders who was never too high and never too low, one of those guys you could tell always wants the bat in his hands in crunch time and always wants the ball hit to him, just steady and reliable throughout the year. He came up with some big hits down the stretch and did a great job for us at the top of the order, hitting for a high average and scoring a lot of runs.

“He played remarkable defense with some of those highlight type plays he made at Districts. He and Carlos had that chemistry up the middle…Cale is a kid who will be extremely hard to replace just because of all the little things he did right and the example he was. I just can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a top-notch kid. If you had a couple kids you’d want your players to watch, he’s one of them, the way he handles himself and goes about his business. He does things the right way.”

Bischoff showed some pop this year, hitting six doubles and driving in 15 runs while scoring 19. He had a .440 on base percentage, drawing 32 walks. He also pitched in 11 games, starting four.

“JB is one of those kids who played everywhere for us and did whatever we asked him to do,” Jameson said. “We hit him anywhere from leadoff to nine and close to everywhere in between. I think he’s played all nine positions for us in his career, a kid that loves baseball. He’s a great teammate and goes out there and has fun and plays hard all the time, gives you 100 percent.”

Diaz-Rios, of Greybull, emerged this season to become the starting first baseman. He hit .235 with five doubles and 21 RBIs, also scoring 20 runs. He even pitched when called upon.

“Beto turned into a pretty reliable defender, and offensively there’d be days when he was just tearing the cover off the ball and hitting line drive after line drive,” Jameson said. “The production we got out of him all year…we couldn’t have asked for more out of him. Beto was just a kid always with a smile on his face who would do whatever you asked him to do.

“The situation that comes to mind was the game in Green River where he didn’t want to pitch but went out and gave it his all. Kids like that you can’t say enough good things about. Those things don’t show up in the stats, but having a kid like that around with his example and leadership (is invaluable).”

The Mustangs finished the season 22-25 and are scheduled to lose just two players to “graduation” off the current roster in Wright and Diaz-Rios.

“Overall, it was a successful season,” Jameson said. “Our numbers were down, but those kids we had came out and played hard. I think by the end of the year we got better and kids improved, stepped into holes and played hard. Successful seasons aren’t always based on wins and losses. To go down to State and win a game and to be one of the final six teams in single A I definitely feel was a successful season.

“I’m proud of the kids for the effort and overcoming adversity when things weren’t looking quite so good and continuing to work hard and finish strong like they did.”

Jameson said he’s extremely grateful for his assistant coaches Brandon Mangus, Les Files, Greg Rael, Justin Moss, Nick Wilson and Stan Hedges, as well as his wife, Stormy, and the other coaching wives, noting that coaches spend “hours and hours” away from their family during a season.

All-star game

Jameson will be the head coach of the West All-Stars in the Class A East-West All-Star Game set for this Saturday at noon in Douglas, preceded by a home run derby and barbecue Friday evening. Playing for the West will be Rodriguez, Jackson, Files, Hedges, Wright and Bischoff.

The Class A All-State team will be announced at the event.