Coming off of a tough extra inning loss at Kearney, the Johnson Imperial Homes junior American Legion baseball team took out any leftover frustration on Lincoln North Star Friday.
In both games of the doubleheader, the Braves’ patience paid off, drawing walks and wearing pitches. Couple that with some impressive pitching and solid defense, and Hastings cruised to wins of 8-0 and 11-1. The Braves finished this week 4-1 heading into an off weekend.
“It’s a tough week when you play five games in a week and that’s not something you’re used to playing... Not playing this weekend, you can kind of force a couple extra games, especially a Friday doubleheader. It was really good for us to come out here and play,” said JIH head coach Blake Marquardt. “We always take a weekend off. At the end of the day, you always want to compete and have fun on the field, but there’s also the sense of being a kid in the middle of the summer.
“You kind of need to step away from the game — as a coach or as a player — and go hang out with your family. Just get away and recover and hopefully the last three weeks of the season you’re rejuvenated and ready compete at the highest level.”
Nathan Burns toed the rubber in the opener and mowed down the North Star lineup, pitching all five innings of the shortened game. He allowed just three hits in the shutout, while striking out one, walking none and hitting just one batter.
“I thought Burns, in the first game, I mean, he threw five innings in 48 pitches and just threw lights out, in my opinion,” Marquardt said. “Once he can stay fluid and not try to overthrow, he’s a dude for us on the mound.”
Burns sat down 11 of the first 12 hitters before allowing his first hit of the game. Only two Lincoln baserunners made it past first base and only one of those reached third.
North Star’s best chance came in the fourth inning. After retiring the first two batters, Burns gave up his first and second hits of the game to put two runners on. A hit-by-pitch then loaded the bases. But Burns got North Star’s designated hitter to ground out to Treyton Newman at third, ending the threat.
“He just commanded the zone with his fastball. We went back and looked and of the 48 pitches he threw, he threw 11 balls,” the coach said. “He just got ahead of hitters and stayed ahead of them and never got behind them. If he gave up a hit...it was, ‘Oh well, so what?’ He just stayed confidence all day.”
The Braves jumped way out in front early, scoring six runs in the second inning. Hastings took advantage of four walks, a hit-by-pitch, and a North Star error. Beau Dreher recored the only hit of the inning, driving in Brayden Mackey with a single.
Dreher’s single made it a 2-0 game, but the Hastings hitters remained patient at the plate and tacked on four more runs on an error, a walk and another HBP. JIH had a 6-0 lead at the end of the frame.
Johnson Imperial Homes tacked on two more runs in the third inning. Dreher drew a bases-loaded walk and then Tyson LeBar drove in Braden Kalvelage on a fielder’s choice.
After three complete innings, the Braves had an 8-0 advantage.
“Hitting-wise, we’re still trying to figure out who we are as a team on the offensive side of things; whether we’re a small ball team or can string hits together and go gap to gap, we’re still trying to figure that out.”
Hastings threatened again in the fourth inning, but stranded a runner at third base. Burns took the hill in the top of the fifth and faced four batters before closing the door on game one.
In the nightcap, Lincoln North Star finally found the scoreboard for the first time all night in the opening frame. A one-out walk accounted for the run after being driven in by Lynden Bruegman.
But the Braves’ offense answered after continuing to work the count. Macrae Huyser and Dreher both drew walks and later scored on a pair of wild pitches, taking a 2-1 lead.
JIH again loaded the bases in the third inning, drawing a two-out, bases-loaded walk to Justin Musgrave. In the next at bat, Cambren Montague lifted a deep fly ball to left field, where the ball was misplayed. All three runs came in to score to increase the Braves’ lead to 6-1.
Hastings made sure the nightcap only lasted five innings as well by scoring five more runs in the fourth. Again, JIH notched just one hit while benefitting from six walks and an error.
“The last couple weekends we’ve actually gotten a lot better as far as competing in the strike zone. At the start of the season we competed really well, competed in the Westside tournament and got to the championship game in that, against some of the best teams in the state in my opinion. But after that we kind of fell apart and started expanding the zone,” Marquardt said. “We were swinging at a big zone. I thought here lately we’ve been doing a better job of not swinging at the high pitch or the low pitch.”
Kalvelage started game two on the mound and threw three innings before Trevor Sullivan tossed the final two frames. Combined, the two hurlers allowed just one run on five hits.
“Our pitching and defense is kind of keeping us in games,” Marquardt said. “Game two, Kalvelage threw, and he’s coming off of some shoulder soreness so this was the first time he’s thrown in two or two and a half weeks... He threw about 48 or somewhere in there and then Sullivan went in, so the pitching staff did great.”
Johnson Imperial Homes is off until the start of the new month, traveling to North Platte on Monday.