COLUMBUS — Brooks Kneifl — who pitched the Wayne Ponies to the Tri County Baseball League title two weeks ago — showed he was ready for some older competition.
The youngest player on the Wayne Juniors squad threw a masterful three-hit shutout Wednesday to eliminate host Columbus Lakeview 4-0 in the Class B American Legion Juniors state tournament here.
The victory left Wayne as the only unbeaten team left in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament at Pawnee Park.
Kneifl’s gem also meant Wayne Juniors coach Adam Hoffman had almost a full complement of his pitching staff to work with in the tournament finals Thursday.
Wayne had nothing to lose in Wednesday's matchup, as they had already sealed a spot in the finals after a 4-3 win over Hickman on Monday night. But with Kneifl's masterpiece, Hoffman has two of his top three starters and three other pitchers with a full complement of appearances and pitches to work with should they need to play two in Thursday's championship.
"That was huge and we really needed that," Hoffman said after the game. "You can never have too many good pitching performances in the state tournament and we got one tonight from Brooks. It was what we needed to set us up for (Thursday)."
Prior to Wednesday's matchup, Kneifl had seen only one inning of action in a late-season loss to Norfolk.
"We wanted to throw him a little more this season, but he was playing Ponies and that's his first priority," Hoffman added. "But it was a performance we needed tonight."
Kneifl got all the help he needed in the first inning. Jake Lutt led off the inning with a single and scored on a passed ball, and Gunnar Jorgensen came up with a two-out double that scored Hagan Miller and Jacob Kneifl to make it 3-0.
Wayne's other run came in the fifth when Miller singled and scored on a Reid Korth double, and the rest was left up to the 13-year-old Kneifl, who needed just 80 pitches to finish with five strikeouts, two walks and one hit batter.
Lakeview's only real threat came in the fifth inning, when an infield single and an error put runners on first and third with two out. Kneifl got Evan Tessendorf to ground out to Lutt at shortstop to end the rally.
"It's easier for the pitcher when the defense plays like that. You don't have to strike everybody out and get your own outs because you know you've got good guys behind you," Hoffman said.
Miller was 3-for-3 with two runs scored to lead Wayne's nine-hit effort. Korth and Victor Kniesche both had two hits, including a double for both.
It was Hoffman's first game back after he and his wife, Ashley, welcomed their first child Sunday. He joked that he wasn't sure if he should come back or not."
"I'm one of the most superstitious guys when it comes to baseball, so I didn't know if I should show up or not because we had some good mojo going," he said. "It was great to back here with everybody and we had a great effort tonight."
And it sets the 23-4 Wayne Juniors up well for Thursday's championship rematch with Hickman, which survived elimination with a 9-0 win over Ashland in the first game Wednesday.
Hoffman said that all 14 of his players have made some sort of contribution in this run to the finals, and it will take a total effort on Thursday as well.
"We're set up with our pitching, but we just have to come out and play good defense, pitch to contact and hit the ball well," he said. "It's the same as every other game we've played. We have to come to the park focused and take care of business and do the things we've done. There's no reason to change for one game - it's baseball and we just have to go out and play."
Wayne 4, Columbus Lakeview 0
Lakeview 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Wayne 300 010 x — 4 9 2
WP: B. Kneifl. LP: VanDyke. 2B: Jorgensen, Korth, Kniesche.