Despite losing its final regular season game, the Johnson Imperial Homes American Legion baseball team is confident it has what it takes to make some noise in the Class A, Area 7 tournament, which begins Friday.
JIH, who finished the season winning 10 of its last 14 games, secured the No. 2 seed in the tournament thanks to a 31-16 record this season.
“I think our confidence is really high right now. It’s unfortunate to lose the last game going into area, but it’s better than taking five days off before area. These games mean a lot to us, just keeping a rhythm,” said JIH head coach Blake Marquardt after his team’s game Tuesday. “Our batters and our pitchers got to face some live situations. I think our confidence level is where it needs to be in order to be successful in the area tournament this weekend.”
Capturing the second seed set up a rivalry matchup in the first round of the area tournament as Hastings will take on three-seeded Kearney Post 52.
After losing to Kearney in the season opener 11-9, Johnson Imperial Homes won the next two against its rival, winning 12-8 and 4-1.
“It’s going to be a battle. They’ve beaten us a few times, and we’ve beaten them a few times. We’re both going to be battling,” Marquardt said. “We’re going to have our best guy going, and I’m assuming they’ll have their best guy, as well. Their going to swing well. Hopefully, our bats can stay alive like they have the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, it’s just a battle and we come out on top that game.”
First Nationals (North Platte) is the No. 1 seed in the A-7 tourney. It will face the winner of Westco Express (Scottsbluff) and Pinnacle Bank (Lexington).
With a win, Hastings won’t play until Sunday in the winner’s bracket semifinals, taking on the winner of North Platte and its first opponent. A loss, however, would force JIH to play on Saturday against the loser of Scottsbluff and Lexington. On advantage Hastings will have is that the tournament will be played at Duncan, which means no travel and the players will be familiar with their surroundings.
Offense has been a strength for Johnson Imperial Homes throughout the season. Hastings has scored 10 or more runs in 16 games this season and averages 7.2 runs per game.
Defensively, JIH has shown signs of dominance, especially when it comes to pitching. Hastings has shut out its opponent nine times and has allowed two or fewer runs 22 times this season.
According to Marquardt, Matt Krontz will get the start on the mound Friday against Kearney. In Johnson Imperial Homes’ 4-1 victory over Kearney on Jun 17, Krontz threw all seven innings, allowing one run and striking out five.
Marquardt believes he has a pitching staff that is up for the challenge the area tournament presents. Winning game one, and getting that extra day off, will be key to JIH’s success.
“I think we have four or five guys who can start and be consistent for us. We’re going to pretty much just go 1-2-3, right down the order for us,” Marquardt said. “We have guys like Drake LeBar, who probably has 12 or 13 appearances this year. He does a great job out of the bullpen for us. He’s accepted that role and he might throw three or four times in this tournament because he does a great job out of the pen.
“Hopefully, our starters can go five or six innings deep. As long as we can win game one, I think we will be very successful in this tournament.”