The Hastings Five Points Bank senior American Legion baseball team has the right makeup for success in tournament play with its deep pitching corps.
That was on display this past weekend at the Johnny Hopp tournament, where Hastings managed three wins against some of the best competition it has faced this season — Papillion La-Vista South, Millard South and Gretna.
As the team readies for the Class A, Area 7 tournament, which begins tonight at 7 against North Platte First Nationals in North Platte, head coach Russ Kindig said he’s excited to see what his top pitchers can do again this tournament.
“You know, we’ve been telling the guys all year that we can compete with the best teams in the state,” he said. “Millard South is a two seed in their area in the metro, Papillion-La Vista South is a two seed, also. Those are two of the top 10 teams in the metro that we’re beating.
“We could be as good as we want to be, we just have to come out ready to play every day.”
FPB’s rotation is Zach Merrill, Mason Spilinek, Alex Panganiban and Jared Foote. While any of those four have also come in relief at one point this season, Hastings also has Alex Mendoza as an option to start or come out of the bullpen.
Combined, the pitching staff has a 2.31 ERA heading into the area tournament. So many times in tournament play, it’s not about who has the most talented team. Things are usually decided by which team has the most pitchers. And in Hastings’ case, not only does it have a deep staff but also a very talented one.
At the top is Merrill, who’s 5-1 with a .992 ERA. Through 42 1/3 innings pitched, Merrill has given up just 44 hits and 15 runs. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 52:13. He also leads the team in saves with four. He’s the ace.
Panganiban (5-4, 1.86 ERA) is one the most efficient pitchers on the staff, leading the team with 18 1-2-3 innings on the mound. He gets on top of batters quickly, posting a .617 percent first strike average. He also has the best command of any of the pitchers on the roster with his fastball.
Foote (3-2, 4.13 ERA) and Spilinek (3-4, 3.00 ERA) are both dangerous because they both have multiple pitches in their arsenals. Foote has four options — fastball, curve, slider and changeup.
Mendoza has pitched 30-plus innings this season, posting a 3-1 record while also recording two saves. His ERA is 1.867.
That many pitchers in the back pocket is a huge benefit for the team as it vies for the Area championship and a berth to the state tournament.
“Those guys have been great all year and we’re going to ride those guys. Hopefully, they’ll go deep into ball games for us,” Kindig said. “If we have to go to the bullpen, we will. Even if we have to get a starter out of the bullpen, we’ll do that. Hopefully, those guys go out and perform like they have all year.”
Hastings, the No. 3 seed with a 24-16 record, has a familiar foe tonight in No. 2 North Platte. Five Points Bank swept that team 8-4 and 6-1 on June 10 at Duncan Field.
If Hastings continues that success against North Platte, then it will advance to the next round on Sunday. A loss eliminates the opportunity for a day off, though, as Five Points would have to then turnaround and play Saturday.
“We have to come out ready. Seeds, in our area tournament, just put you against somebody else. They don’t really put us in order of how good we are. They just put us in a bracket,” Kindig said. “We could get a day off on Saturday. That will be huge. We’ve talked as a coaching staff, as the No. 3 seed, if we win (tonight) we get Saturday off, then if we win Sunday we will only have played two games before reaching the championship. By that point, we’ll be throwing our number three guy whereas the other team might be deeper in the rotation or throwing a guy on just a few days rest.”
On the other side of the bracket, No. 4 Kearney Runza will take on No. 5 Lexington Pinnacle Bank. The winner of that game will face No. 1 Scottsbluff Westco Zephyrs on Saturday.