With the state tournament starting Saturday, it's time to answer those lingering questions from a season that's had more than its share of surprises.
Can Millard West, which has finished as state runner-up six times, finally secure that elusive first title?
Will Omaha Creighton Prep, Class A's most consistent team this season, end its seven-year title drought and bring home the championship?
Do any of the three Lincoln schools in the Class A field — Southwest, East and Northeast — have the horses to become the first team from the Star City since 1977 (Lincoln Southeast) to capture the title?
Can Omaha Skutt, behind the strong pitching of Creighton recruit Matt Warren, make up for past state tourney frustration and snare its first Class B title?
With two-time defending Class A champion Papillion-La Vista South out of the mix, which team is ready to step up and claim that crown?
And who will succeed Gretna, which lost to Omaha Roncalli in a district semifinal, as Class B champion?
It seems the B champion will come from one of the top four seeds — No. 1 Norris, No. 2 Skutt, No. 3 Lincoln Pius X and No. 4 South Sioux City. It's more difficult trying to whittle down the Class A field, and a strong case can be made for each of the eight teams.
Let's take a closer look at that field, in order of tournament seeds:
Omaha Creighton Prep: With 12 seniors, Prep is one of the most experienced teams at state. Coach Pat Mooney's squad never lost two games in a row, and rolled through districts by outscoring its two foes 19-1. This team can hit and pitch, but the X-factor could be the health of Taylor Elman. The senior, who is 5-1 on the mound and batting .458, had his appendix removed last week.
Millard West: The Wildcats won their first 15 games but stumbled against Lincoln Southwest in the final of the Millard West Invitational. The team lost five more games the rest of the way, including a 2-1 setback at home against Lincoln East in the district final. Perhaps that loss will refocus a squad that appears to have the strongest pitching staff, anchored by Kansas State recruit Nate Griep.
Omaha Westside: The Warriors, seeking their sixth state title, don't seem to have the heavy hitting of Prep or the lockdown pitching of Millard West. But this team won 25 games and defeated both the Junior Jays and the Wildcats. Coach Bob Greco's squad has a nice mix of seniors and underclassmen, and those 31 state tourney appearances say a lot about this team's tradition.
Millard North: The Mustangs have been one of the more unpredictable teams in the state, winning their first 12 games but losing four straight late in the season. A gritty 3-2 win over Papio South in the district final showed this team has heart, and it will need to bring that same kind of intensity to state. While probably not considered the favorite to win it all, a definite contender.
Lincoln Southwest: A 10-0 loss at Prep late in the season seems to have refocused this team, which won its last six games in convincing fashion. The Silver Hawks' closest call during that stretch was a 7-4 win against Millard South in the district final. Junior Brayden Young (7-1, 1.84 ERA) is one of the best pitchers in the state, that's just part of what makes this team tough.
Millard South: The Patriots went to state with high hopes last season, but losses to Westside and Southwest ended their stay in surprisingly swift fashion. A less-experienced squad had its share of ups and downs this season, but coach Greg Geary's team was good enough to return to state as a wild card. The young team has improved as the season has gone along.
Lincoln Northeast: The Rockets have flown under the radar much of this season, but it's tough to dismiss those 20 wins. Northeast has been to state 16 times but is seeking its first state title since 1957. A 15-4 win against Millard North late in the season gained everyone's attention and showed this team has the potential to be a factor at state.
Lincoln East: Unranked at the start of the season, the Spartans have pulled their share of surprises — mostly at the expense of Millard West. Lincoln East has defeated the Wildcats twice since April 26, and that has to give this squad a heavy dose of confidence. A first-round test against Prep will play a huge role in determining if this team is going to stick around awhile.
That's enough conjecture. Now, let's play ball!
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