Two-time defending state champion Papillion-La Vista South isn’t ready to pack away its baseball gear just yet.
The ninth-ranked Titans defeated Grand Island 7-0 in a District A-4 semifinal Saturday at Millard North to keep their state tournament hopes alive. Papio South will advance to play the host Mustangs in the district final at 5 p.m. Monday.
Eighth-ranked Millard North won its semifinal earlier in the day, eliminating Omaha North 10-3.
The Titans received a strong pitching performance from senior Albert Johnson, who threw six shutout innings. He allowed five hits and struck out six before giving way to reliever Tegan Nissen in the seventh.
“It was a perfect day for us,” Johnson said. “We brought a lot of energy to the park, and we had a lot of fun getting this win.”
The Titans (17-11) also were motivated by a 2-1 loss to the Islanders in early April.
“We didn’t bring the energy that first game,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get back at them, because we knew we hadn’t played our best that first time around.”
Papio South got off to a quick start, plating four runs in the first inning. The Titans got hits from Johnson, Curtis Bussard and Tyler Apgar and took advantage of two Grand Island errors.
“We wanted to put the pressure on them,” Papio South coach Bill Lynam said. “Those four runs were big for us and for Albert.”
The Titans added a run in the second on a sacrifice fly by Johnson and another in the fourth on an RBI single by Sam Palensky. Brent Kirsch brought home the final run in the fifth, drawing a bases-loaded walk.
“We knew coming in that we would have to minimize our mistakes,” Islanders coach Rick Kissack said. “(Starter) Jake Brunner did a good job, but we needed to do more to win this game.”
Grand Island also was victimized by some stellar defense on the part of the Titans, especially from junior shortstop Josh Kiger. He denied Brendan Wentling a leadoff single in the fifth by fielding a bad hop grounder and then just missed getting a spectacular out in the sixth when he barehanded a hard grounder by Derek Lux, who barely beat the throw at first.
“The guys played great defense behind me,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and get them to hit ground balls.”
Papio South’s chances of securing one of the two available Class A wild-card berths are dim, so the Titans probably need to beat Millard North to return to state.
“Getting back to state is what we’re shooting for,” Lynam said. “We’ll need to come out and play a big game against a very tough opponent.”
Grand Island (9-18).........................................000 000 0 —0 6 4
Papillion-La Vista South (17-11).................410 110 x—7 7 1
W: Johnson. L: Brunner.
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