FREMONT — The Norfolk Post 16 Faith Regional Physicians Services Orthopedics Juniors came out strong, but an upset simply wasn’t in the cards Sunday afternoon. They were knocked out of the Class A Area 6 Tournament by the Gretna 1 Post 307 Juniors 6-3, putting an end to their 2021 season.
Gretna went into the tournament as the top seed but found itself in the losers bracket after a second-round loss to Columbus on Saturday.
With Sunday’s game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth, Gretna had runners on first and second with one out. Brendan Albers hit a double to left field to break the tie. An RBI groundout and an error by right fielder Evan Harper gave Gretna a 6-3 lead after the inning, one they wouldn’t let go of.
“We honestly gave it our all. There were a few mental mistakes we made in the middle portion of that game there, but overall, I thought we played a pretty good game,” Norfolk coach Jerrett Mills said. “We just came up short.”
An error by Dylan Viergutz gave Gretna the first run of the game. Norfolk answered right back with a two-out double by Harper in the top of the second.
In the third, Carter Ramaekers gave the Juniors the lead on a deep double to left field. After advancing to third on an error by the catcher, Zach Cordner drove him in with a sacrifice fly to give them a 3-1 lead.
“I thought we attacked a little better at the plate in those first three innings because we knew we had to. We knew we had to get up on them early, which we did,” Mills said. “It just wasn’t enough.”
In the bottom half, Albers doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. Not long after, Sawyer Wolff attempted to pick him off and had him in a rundown, but Albers made it back to third safely.
Karson Auman wound up doubling him home. Connor Wiese tied the game two batters later on a single.
Wolff allowed six runs — four earned — on seven hits and took the loss. Ramaekers held Gretna scoreless in relief.
Harper had two hits and a run batted in.
The season didn’t end quite the way the Juniors had hoped, but Mills saw plenty of positives over the course of the year.
From those with raw skills to those with good talent, many of Norfolk’s players made big strides as the schedule progressed. It’s those aspects that have Mills and the coaching staff thinking big;
“We want to be up there with those teams and be competing and not be the sixth seed coming in. We want to be that 2, even the first seed,” Mills said. “That’s gonna take a lot for our guys to truly prepare and understand the level of baseball that takes.”
If the players can keep improving like that, Mills thinks they can accomplish great things.
“If we just keep climbing and take the next approach to understand what we have to get better at,” Mills said, “I think Norfolk will be one to reckon with in a couple years.”
The Norfolk Juniors end their season 13-14. Their 1-2 record at the area tournament was their best since they hosted the event in 2018.
In Saturday’s game, The Norfolk Post 16 Faith Regional Physician Services Orthopedics Juniors played at the level they knew they were capable of competing at as they cruised past the South Sioux City Siouxland Bank Post 307 Juniors 11-0 in the losers bracket of the Class A Area 6 Tournament.
It was Norfolk’s first win in an area tournament since 2018, when they beat Fremont in the first round.
Singles by the first three batters loaded the bases with no one out for the Juniors in the bottom of the first. With Cordner at the plate, Siouxland starting pitcher D.J. Helms mishandled a toss by the catcher after a pitch, allowing Wolff to score from third base. Easton Sullivan later scored on a fielder’s choice and Ramaekers scored on a passed ball.
That was all the scoring for the first, but Norfolk added two more runs in the second when C.J. Hoffman drove a single to left field, giving the Juniors a 5-0 lead.
In the top of the third, an error and walk gave Siouxland first and second with no one out. At that point, coach Jerrett Mills took out Harper, who started the game on the mound and had allowed no runs on two hits and struck out three.
“We just needed somebody to go in there and start us off on the right note and (Evan) did that,” Mills said. “I just wanted to get some other arms in there and get work in and see what they could do.”
That other arm would be Sullivan, who switched in from second base. His first assignment would be to keep Siouxland from starting any kind of rally.
Sullivan struck out the side to end the inning, along with six of the first seven batters he faced. He pitched the remaining three innings of the game, allowing no hits and earning the win.
Sullivan said his ability to get ahead in counts and the defense behind him were big reasons for his success.
“It was definitely one of my better (outings). I was able to get ahead in the count, keep them off balance,” Sullivan said. “I think that’s a big thing, to keep them guessing.”
A big concern for the Juniors going into the game was their ability to produce quality at-bats, particularly with runners in scoring position. The team had just one hit in such situations on Friday in its first-round loss to Fremont.
Norfolk had five such hits against Siouxland and put up at least one run in each inning.
“The approaches that we had at the plate, I thought, were way better,” Mills said about what the offense’s biggest improvement was, “We drove the fastball like we’re supposed to. We fouled off the rest of the junk.”
Hoffman and Sean Barrett led the team with two RBIs apiece.
Norfolk 012 000 0 — 3 7 1
Gretna 1 102 300 X — 6 10 1
WP: Conor Cole
LP: Sawyer Wolff
—2B: (NOR) Evan Harper, Carter Ramaekers; (GRE) Brendan Albers 2, Karson Auman.
South Sioux City 000 00 — 0 2 4
Norfolk 321 5X — 11 8 1
WP: Easton Sullivan
LP: D.J. Helms