Dane Stone’s command made him one of the Pioneer League’s strongest pitchers in the first half of the season, and he carried that dominance into the second half as Great Falls shut out the Mustangs at Dehler Park.
Stone dazzled through seven scoreless innings Saturday, allowing three hits while striking out four and walking one. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound right-hander threw 87 pitches (61 for strikes) in the Voyagers’ 6-0 victory.
Stone improved to 4-0 and lowered his league-leading ERA to 2.08.
“We struggled at the plate, obviously,” said Mustangs third baseman Taylor Sparks, who struck out three times. “We didn’t have many quality at-bats. There was a lot of chasing and we didn’t adjust enough.”
The 3,576 in attendance saw first-hand what made Stone the league’s two-time reigning pitcher of the week. And it was a bounce-back performance: Stone was uncharacteristically tagged for 11 hits and six earned runs in his previous outing at Idaho Falls.
Stone was originally a 25th-round draft pick of the Marlins, and at one point was pitching at Class A Jupiter of the Florida State League. But he was released in March, and the White Sox happily plucked him out of the Independent League and assigned him to Great Falls.
With Stone anchoring their staff, the Voyagers won the first-half title in the North division going away. And they came into the second half leading the eight-team league in ERA, WHIP, fewest home runs allowed and shutouts.
The 23-year-old Stone “pitched great tonight. He came after us,” Mustangs manager Dick Schofield said. “What’d he give up … two or three hits? It was obvious that there was conviction behind all his pitches.
“You don’t want to say it’s all on them, but our guys have to realize how he’s pitching. Is he falling into a pattern? Is he starting everybody off with a fastball? Does he get two strikes and then throw a breaking ball? Sometimes guys fall into patterns, and even though sometimes you know it’s coming you still don’t hit it.”
KEY MOMENT: Clinging to a one-run lead, Stone faced Aristides Aquino in the sixth inning with runners on second and third and two outs. Aquino, maybe the league’s hottest bat, hit .390 with five homers and 17 RBIs in his previous 10 games. But Stone got Aquino to fly out to left and end the threat, and the Mustangs had only one baserunner after that.
ON THE MOUND: Mustangs starter Luke Moran went toe-to-toe with Stone, opening the game with four shutout innings. But he left a pitch up and out over the plate in the fifth that Zach Fish hit for a solo homer. Moran (1-4, 5.40) threw six innings but took the loss. “He deserved much better than that,” Schofield said.
AT THE PLATE: Alex Blandino had two of the Mustangs’ three hits. Blandino punched both hits to right field, including a two-out double in the first. Blandino raised his average to .324, and pushed his on-base percentage to a team-high .431. Brian O’Grady had the other hit, a single in the seventh, but he was picked off of first base by Stone with one out.
ON DECK: Right-hander Tejay Antone (0-2, 7.84) will get the ball for the Mustangs on Sunday in the third and final game of their series with Great Falls. First pitch is at 2 p.m.