After a hard-fought 1-0 win over North Platte on Saturday, Johnson Imperial Homes found itself one victory shy of clinching a spot in the junior American Legion Class A, Area 7 finals.
Standing in the way of the Braves was familiar area foe Kearney.
JIH got a strong pitching performance from Treyton Newman, but the offense could not capitalize on scoring opportunities. Hastings stranded eight base runners, including six in scoring position, in the 3-1 loss. The Braves had runners on second and third when the final out of the game was made.
“We’ve got to find a way to start fighting for each other and not just ourselves,” said JIH head coach Blake Marquardt. “I think we’re having a lot of selfish at bats. We had plenty of opportunities where we left a lot of guys on second base. We had leadoff guys on and couldn’t get them to third or produce a run until late into the game. When you’re not able to do the small things, that’s a lot of selfish baseball.”
Hastings out-hit Kearney 7-5, but the Braves were able to only scratch across one run. Trailing 3-0 in the sixth, Newman hit a one-out triple and eventually scored on a two-out single by Justin Musgrave.
But JIH left plenty of other potential runs on the base paths. Hastings left runners on second or third in the second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh innings.
“You try to start doing some bunt situations, some hit-and-runs, but unfortunately we were just not in position and didn’t get in a lot of counts that we could be doing that in. And that’s credit to their pitcher. Higgins threw one heck of a game, and he has all year. He’s one of their dudes. We knew he was going to be tough to beat (Sunday). He showed why he’s one of their best arms,” Marquardt said.
As Marquardt said, a lot of the credit for Hastings ineffectiveness on offense should go to Kearney starter Cal Higgins. The tall lefty powered his way out of any jam he encountered, tossing six strong innings and giving up just one run while striking out seven.
Higgins’ counterpart on the mound was Newman, who had an impressive outing as well. Newman threw all seven innings for Hastings, giving up just five hits and three runs, two of which were earned.
“He’s a competitor,” the coach said. “Talking about the two (earned) runs he gave up, it was one hit down the line that we couldn’t get to, and that kind of sealed the deal for them. But I thought Newman threw really well.”
Newman’s performance comes right after Beau Dreher threw a complete game shutout against North Platte on Saturday. Kearney’s three runs have been the only ones scored against JIH in three games this tournament.
“We’ve only used two guys (pitching) the last two games, and it’s been awesome. Those guys have been keeping us in games. When you give up three runs, or one run, you expect to win those games. You expect to win all of them,” Marquardt said.
Through four innings, Newman had faced the minimum 12 hitters and allowed just one hit. But Kearney had back-to-back hits with two outs in the fifth before Carson Schnacker delivered a two-run double down the right field line. Schnacker was thrown out trying to stretch the hit to a triple, but both runs had crossed the plate before the final out was made.
Kearney tacked on another run on a JIH error in the sixth inning to take a 3-0 lead.
After Hastings scored its only run of the game, the Braves started the seventh with a leadoff hit by Cambren Montague. In the next at bat, Kaden Evans hit a ball that seemed as though it would get through the right side, but the ball hit off of Nathan Burns, who was running for Montague. Instead of having two runners on with no outs, Hastings had just a man at first with one gone.
A walk and an error with two outs in the frame moved the Braves’ runners to second and third, but reliever Tanner Johnson got Dreher to fly out to center to end the game.
Musgrave led Johnson Imperial Homes with two hits, including a double. Braden Kalvelage, Dreher, Newman, Montague and Evans had the remaining base knocks.
Hastings will play a rematch with North Platte Monday at 6 p.m. in an elimination game. Marquardt thought North Platte would throw its No. 1 pitcher, William Coe, in the teams’ first meeting, but the ace did not take the mound in the 1-0 JIH win. The Braves’ coach fully expects to see Coe take the hill Monday when both teams’ seasons are on the line.
“We’re going to throw Burns, and if he can throw as well as he has this year we’ll be right in the game. It’s just can we find ways to scrap on the offensive side of things, which we have not the last two games,” Marquardt said.