The Norfolk Elkhorn Valley Bank Juniors couldn't quite take advantage of its chances. Grand Island Five Points Bank was more than happy to do so.
The visitors scored five runs with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning, and Norfolk saw its season end with an 8-5 loss in a Class A, Area 6 tournament elimination game Monday night at Veterans Park.
Even so, it was Norfolk's response from adversity that continued to make its coach proud.
“They're not afraid to get punched in the mouth and come back and fight,” Norfolk coach Bladen Bales said. “I was really proud of the way we stayed in the game. It just wasn't our day.”
Even in a losing effort, Norfolk's run through the tournament gained respect for the program.
“I'll credit Norfolk. That is a very well-coached team,” Grand Island coach Josh Redman said. “You can tell that, especially from last year to this year, that they're fundamentally sound and they're 100 percent in the game. That's a credit to that coaching staff.”
Unfortunately, missed chances cost Norfolk. It stranded 11 runners on base, nine in scoring position, while Grand Island left five total on base.
There were also the extra chances Norfolk provided defensively — three errors in a momentum-changing fourth inning.
“It's one of those things where things don't go your way, but you've got to bounce back from it,” Bales said. “We responded and kept the game close at 7-5 after having a terrible inning."
Berkly Brummond took the hard-luck loss in a complete-game effort, allowing eight runs — five of them earned — on eight hits. He did not strike out a batter but allowed just one walk.
“It is for sure the best outing he's had all year, but it might be the best outing we've had all year, period,” Bales said. “He was pounding the zone, really mixing in his off-speed well, and keeping them off-balance. I really feel bad for the guy. He pitched his butt off, and we couldn't get it done for him.”
On the mound, Grand Island relied on a committee approach. Trevor Johnson earned the win in relief, allowing two runs, on earned, on one hit and four walks in 1@-E innings. Jay Gustafson threw just 22 pitches in the final two innings for the save. Matt Jurgensmier lasted 3!-E innings to start but did not get a decision after allowing Norfolk's first two runs.
Norfolk struck first in the fourth when Austin Papstein ripped a RBI double past the diving left fielder, and courtesy runner Brody Luhr crossed when Eli Alvarado's hit sailed just above the third baseman for a RBI single. A wild pitch put both in scoring position, but Trevor Johnson escaped with a strikeout and a groundout.
It appeared Norfolk would get out of the bottom of the fourth with a 2-1 lead after a fielder's choice for the second out. Then the Norfolk defense — which had just one error in the first three innings — couldn't make the plays it needed, loading the bases on back-to-back errors.
“We have a tendency of not losing but of beating ourselves,” Bales said. “There were very few teams that showed up at the ball park and just flat-out beat us.”
The bottom two batters in the Grand Island lineup — Braden Robinson and Broc Douglass — proved to be the most potent bats. Robinson cleared the bases with a double just inside the right-field line, and Douglass brought Robinson home on a single. Another error brought Douglass home before Norfolk finally got a groundout.
Robinson and Douglass both finished 2 for 3, accounting for half of Grand Island's eight hits. Cleanup batter Blake Leiting also went 2 for 3 with a RBI double in the fifth inning to extend the lead to 7-2.
“We'd been down two runs before,” Redman said. “When that'd happen earlier in the year, we'd shut down. Now, it's good to see these kids bounce back. That's the kind of baseball we need to be playing.”
Norfolk wasn't done, however.
After a hit batter and a walk to begin the sixth, Sam Jagels bunted down the third-base line. He beat the throw, and the throw got past the first baseman for Alvarado to score. A fielder's choice plated Brody Konz, and with two outs, Dustin Brenden drilled a sharp double down the left-field line to score Brett O'Brien to make it 7-5.
The second hit batter of the inning put the tying run on base, but a strikeout ended the threat. Grand Island added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, and Norfolk left a runner on second base to end the game.
Norfolk 000 203 0 — 5 7 5
Grand Island 000 611 X — 8 8 4
WP: Trevor Johnson. LP: Berkly Brummond. SV: Jay Gustafson. 2B: (NOR) Dustin Brenden, Austin Papstein; (GI) Blake Leiting, Braden Robinson. SB: (GI) Ace McKinnis, Broc Douglass.