PENDER — Just as Pender coach Ron Williams said after a loss on Saturday, Pender’s Junior American Legion baseball team was in the spirit of eliminating teams.
“I told them last night we just have to eliminate teams,” Williams said. “We did today. I wish it would have been some other team.”
Williams and Pender just defeated Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge in the Area 1 finals last week and the teams met in an elimination game that saw Pender win 8-4 to stay alive in the tournament.
Pender won 12-4 in the area tournament and grabbed a ticket to Monday with Sunday’s win.
WPHD gave Williams and company a lot to worry about after scoring three runs in the opening frame.
“We have to quit doing that in this tournament,” Williams said. “The competition was great today, but it’s only going to probably get better.”
WPHD coach Ted Peck was happy with his team.
“We don’t have the advantage of playing baseball in the spring,” Peck said. “Most of the teams here do — not an excuse, but our kids go to camps for wrestling, football and basketball. We are proud of what they do outside of baseball. We had a kid showing a pig in the fair yesterday and show up to play with us last night.”
Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge used five singles from Beau Ruskamp, Bryant Peck, Anthony Palmer, Body Bird and Carson Urwiler to score the three runs.
“We have the best kids — well-rounded and doing everything offered,” coach Peck said. “I would rather have these small-town kids. They care about their towns, and they care about things that don’t start with baseball.
“I’m good with that.”
After the three-run first from WPHD, Pender started chipping away at the lead.
By the third frame, Pender had tied the score.
Braxton Volk walked and came around to score and then Pender added two runs in the third from Spencer Rabbass and Volk plated runs in the inning to tie the score.
Pender then added single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth and a couple in the top of the seventh to come away with the win.
“I wasn’t necessarily happy with the way we played,” Williams said. “We had another great performance by our pitcher this afternoon, but we are where we’re at. We have to win.”
“I would like to see us hit the ball way better than what we are doing and just play better,” he said. “We have to.”
Saturday’s games showed why baseball is one of the sports where unbeaten teams don’t remain unbeaten for an entire season.
The Pender American Legion Junior team ran into just that in the opening round of the Class C Nebraska Junior American Legion Baseball Tournament here at Dave Nitzschke Field.
Pender didn’t blink and held a one-run lead late in the game against Dannebrog-Cairo-Boelus, but DCB plated three runs in the top of the seventh and final inning to advance in the winners bracket, to break a 2-2 tie on the way to a 5-2 win.
“We played right with them like I thought we would,” Williams said. “They really hit the ball well, and we decided to throw them a bit of a curveball.”
Williams and company started Rabbass on the mound, a decision that almost worked to perfection.
“Spencer doesn’t throw real hard, but he has a variety of pitches he can throw to keep teams off balance,” Williams said. “He nips corners, changes speeds, has a knuckleball, he did a great job here tonight and we almost got it done.”
DCB scored a run in the first on an errant pickoff attempt at first base, which sent the DCB runner to third.
The run scored on a sacrifice fly to center field.
Pender evened the score in the fifth frame when Drake Bruns drew a walk and was bunted to second by Michael Cooney. Volk slapped a single into right field to send Bruns home.
Pender scored another run in the fifth to take a 2-1 lead when Aiden Beckman scored on a safety-squeeze by Rabbass.
DCB answered in the top of the sixth and then scored the three runs in the seventh to put the game away.
“It’s always good to get that first-round win, but here we are,” Williams said. “I just told the guys we’ll start eliminating teams and see how far we can go.”
The loss set up a rematch of the Area 1 finals last Thursday against Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge, which Pender won 12-4.
Speaking of Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge, it couldn’t capitalize on scoring opportunities Saturday, leaving the bases loaded in the third and scoring a couple of runs in the fourth while falling behind 6-0 early in its 10-2 loss to Yutan on Saturday afternoon.
“We had some early chances but let them slip away,” WPHD coach Caden Schweers said. “It’s like I said at the area tournament, we don’t quit playing, but we need to take advantage of the opportunities when they are in front of us.”
Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge also committed a couple of errors and tried to survive the winners bracket with a couple of hits.
“We made the most of what we did,” Schweers said. You have to be at your best at this stage. You must take care of your business and take advantage when you can.”
After Yutan plated the six runs in the second frame, WPHD made a bit of a comeback in the top of the fourth.
Palmer got aboard with a base on balls and Gavin Nelson reached on an error to open the inning for Wisner-Pilger-Howells-Dodge.
After a strikeout and a rifle shot to center field by Aiden Meyer that was caught, Bird hit a single, chasing Palmer and Nelson home to make it 6-2.
Yutan answered in the top of the fifth with four more runs and held WPHD scoreless in the bottom of the inning to end the game by the eight-run rule with the 10-2 final.
“We’ll regroup and come back tomorrow,” Schweers said. “We just need to prevent any lapses and play our best — it’s the state tournament — we’ll have to.”
WPHD 300 010 1 — 5 7 1
PEND 012 111 2 — 8 7 1
WP: Brayden Hegge
LP: Gavin Nelson
DCB 100 001 3 — 5 9 1
PEN 000 110 0 — 2 2 5
WP: Kellen Fries
LP: Spencer Rabbass
— 2B: (DCB) Carter Noakes 2; 3B: (DCB) Justice Peterson, Mason Gorecki
WPHD 000 20 — 2 2 2
YUTAN 060 4X — 10 7 1
WP: Casey Stevens
LP: Beau Ruskamp
2B: (Y) Caleb Daniel