Photo by James Parrish
North Platte's Levi Nekuda gets ready to throw a pitch against Kearney.
Photo by James Parrish
Austin Chitty swings at a pitch.
The North Platte First National Bank Juniors scored two runs in the seventh inning on Sunday to get past Kearney and advance at the state tournament with a 6-4 victory.North Platte (24-32) will play the loser of Papillion-LaVista and Omaha Westside on Monday.
North Platte, a never-say-die underdog in the tournament, now has a 1-1 record in the double elimination tourney. The First Nationals put a complete game together to defeat Kearney for the first time this season, in five games.
"(Scoring two runs in the seventh) was great," said Juniors coach Adam Sterup. "We did the things we needed to do there to get the lead and win the game."
The First Nationals got started right away, scoring its first run on a Kevin Hancock single to right field with one out in the first inning.
In the following inning, North Platte added to its lead in a big way. With two outs and the bases loaded, Braiden Ruffin pounded a Chris Langin pitch to right field for a double to clear the bases and make it 4-0.
After losing all three meetings to Kearney earlier in the season, Sterup couldn't have asked for a better start.
"That was huge," Sterup said. "Braiden Ruffin had the big base hit. We needed that start because we lost three times to them and that was in the back of our minds. So to get ahead against a good pitcher was really important."
Pitcher Levi Nekuda held up his end of the bargain. For the five innings he was on the mound, he only gave up one run. That came in the third inning when Jared Smalley reached on an error by third baseman Dominic Martinez.
In the sixth, the southpaw Nekuda started to tire and he gave up a pair of singles to start the sixth. Jayden Kruse came in to relieve Nekuda.
After the change, Smalley got his second RBI of the game when he reached on an error by shortstop Jace Barker and it was 4-2. Then Kearney tied the game after Ty Roseberry hit a single into right. Rightfielder Austin Chitty mishandled the ball allowing a run to score and then after Chitty got it into the infield, the ball was thrown away on a throw to third to allow the tying run to come home.
But Kruse got out of the inning without any further damage.
"That was our one big inning that we always seem to give up," said Sterup. "Fortunately, we were able to hold them a little bit and come back in the seventh."
Langin, Kearney's ace pitcher, regained his form after a rocky first two innings and he threw four consecutive scoreless innings. But North Platte was able to get to him
in the seventh.
With Barker and Chitty on with one out, Ruffin laid down a bunt toward third base and he reached on a single to load the bases. That set up Hancock, who hit a slow-rolling single into left field to score Barker and Chitty, giving the First Nationals the two-run lead.
Harrison Pearse came in for Langin afterward and he got Dylan Petersen to fly out to the middle infield for the double play.
But it didn't matter as Kruse mowed down the next three Kearney batters to get the win.
"Our pitchers did a great job keeping their composure and that was something we needed from them," Sterup said.