The box score of Tuesday’s Johnson Imperial Homes game may look a little more like one from an all-star event than a typical seven-inning contest. The Braves sent six hurlers to the mound, each tossing about an inning’s worth of work.
Hastings was taking on Grand Island Five Points Bank in the regular season finale. With the area tournament seedings already set in stone, JIH head coach Blake Marquardt focused mostly on giving his guys short outings to make sure everybody is fresh heading into the area tournament.
“We wanted (Braden) Kalvelage to go a little longer because we wouldn’t use him early in the tournament, so he went a little longer. But everyone else was one inning, one inning, and we had (Jacob) Eckhardt come in for two outs and just see how we’d use them in a district tournament,” Marquardt said. “We went with (Luke) Brooks at the end. Again, a guy that has two good pitches and a guy we can see filling the zone and can get outs.
“We just kind of kept them in the role we need them in and kept them comfortable.”
The parade of pitchers led to the Braves limiting GI to just one run and 7-1 victory. Hastings tacked on three runs in each the fourth and sixth innings to take the contest easily and end the regular season with a record of 35-8.
Braden Kalvelage started on the mound for the Braves and went 2 1/3 innings, giving up one run on three hits. Jacob Eckhardt, Treyton Newman, Beau Dreher, Jared Musgrave and Luke Brooks all combined to close out the remaining 4 2/3 innings. The five hurlers shut out GI and allowed five hits.
Only one base runner in the final six innings made it past second base.
Grand Island scored the game’s first run in the opening frame, and Five Points’ starter Brayden Wenzl had retired the first seven JIH batters in order going into the bottom of the third inning.
Pierce McVicker broke up Wenzl’s brief attempt at a no-hitter with a one-out single. Brayden Mackey then hit into a fielder’s choice, and courtesy runner Robb Foote stole second to move into scoring position. With two outs and a runner on second, Macrae Huyser singled on a 3-1 pitch to tie the game at 1-apiece.
In the fourth inning, Dreher and Newman led off with back-to-back singles, and the Braves took the lead in the next at bat when Justin Musgrave reached on an error that scored Dreher. Nathan Burns tacked on another run when his hit plated Newman, and Musgrave made it a 4-1 lead when he scored on a passed ball.
“It was a good part of the order to come up with those hits. It’s just a lot less stressful for a pitcher when your guys have a three-run inning,” the coach said. “The defense relaxes, pitching relaxes, and you can play more of the traditional style you like to play.”
Johnson Imperial Homes added three more runs in the sixth inning, without tallying a hit. Foote had the only RBI of the frame, as JIH gained a 7-1 advantage heading into the seventh inning.
Musgrave got the first two outs of the frame, allowing two baserunners to reach during the process, but it was Brooks that got the final out of the game, sealing the victory.
JIH will now turn its attention to the Class A, Area 7 juniors tournament, which will be hosted at Duncan Field. The home field for the area tournaments rotate each year, and Marquardt said being able to play the tourney in Hastings will be a nice advantage.
“Sleeping in your own bed, being on your own schedule, not having to wake up in a hotel and find an area to eat — and we can still do some team outings together and stay on a good schedule; it doesn’t mess with anything. It is a full advantage when teams host area,” the coach said.
Hastings will go into the tournament as the No. 5 seed and will face Lexington in the first round on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Braves’ coach said pitching and defense has been the team’s strength this season, and if it can find a groove offensively, JIH is going to be tough to beat.
“Hitting has been up and down. We’ve had really good moments, but we have to figure out ways to continuously hit throughout the game, not just in one or two innings,” he said. “Big innings are always good; you can win ball games that way. The last two weeks we’ve been able to put runs on the board in several innings. (Tuesday) and just the other day, we kind of went away from that.
“There was an inning where we had a guy on third and no outs, and Grand Island pulled their defense in. We couldn’t even get a ball through the infield and into the outfield. Just little things like that, finding ways to sacrifice yourself for the team.”