Photo Showcase: Nebraska state baseball Thursday
* * *
LINCOLN — After they worked so hard to get it Thursday, what was the first thing the Omaha Creighton Prep players did to the championship baseball trophy?
They broke it.
But that was about the only thing that went wrong all day for the Junior Jays, who put on an impressive two-game performance at the Class A state tournament to capture their state-leading ninth championship.
Prep rode a strong pitching effort by junior Jeff Albrecht to a 12-2 win against Lincoln Northeast in the title game at Haymarket Park. The Junior Jays had forced that second game after drilling the Rockets 14-4 in the early game Thursday.
It was the first time since 2000 that a team captured the double-elimination state tournament by defeating the previously unbeaten tourney squad twice in a row. Top-seeded Prep battled back to win the crown after losing to eighth-seeded Lincoln East in a first-round game last Saturday.
“We swung the bats today,” Junior Jays coach Pat Mooney said. “And we did it up and down the lineup.”
Prep (34-4) dominated the two games, which were both halted in the sixth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule. It was a tough finish to the season for the seventh-seeded Rockets, who were seeking their first state title since 1957.
“They had the big bats, holy cow,” Northeast coach Jerome Ehrlich said. “That's a great all-around team over there, and we tip our hats to them.”
After Taylor Elman tossed a five-hitter in the first game, it was Albrecht's turn. The left-hander went five strong innings and struck out 11 before giving way to reliever Nick Ramsey, who struck out two more in the final inning.
“I had a few nerves at the start, but I was OK once I got going,” Albrecht said. “It's just an incredible feeling to get this title.”
Prep, which never trailed in the final, led 3-2 after four innings before breaking the game open in the fifth. The Junior Jays sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five times as three seniors — Kevin Connolly, Matt Kanger and Elman — delivered consecutive RBI singles.
Mooney's squad got major production from that trio Thursday. Kanger had seven RBIs in the two games, Elman six and Connolly four.
“We knew that even after that first loss that we had the pitching to come back,” Kanger said. “We were all putting some good swings on the ball today, so it was really a big team effort.”
Leading 8-2 after five innings, the Junior Jays put it away with a four-run sixth. Kanger drove in a pair with a double, Elman had a run-scoring single and Connolly brought in a run with a sacrifice fly.
The Rockets put a runner on base in the sixth with two outs, but TJ Wood made a nice running catch in left field to end it. That triggered a dogpile near the mound as Prep secured its first state title since 2004.
“We were pretty confident coming in because we were all really focused,” Elman said. “And scoring first in both games the way we did was huge.”
Other players also stepped up for Prep in the final. Leadoff batter Jon Hechtner scored three runs, Evan Ryan had three hits and Cale Dineen had two hits and scored twice.
After receiving their championship medals, the Prep players were awarded the tournament trophy by Nebraska School Activities Association interim director Steve Shanahan. The Junior Jays eagerly grabbed it but accidentally broke off the little bat held by the batter on the trophy.
“Anybody got some Krazy Glue?” one player shouted.
With or without the bat, Prep had its title.
“We got hot at the right time,” Mooney said. “It was just our day.”
Om. Creighton Prep (34-4) ............... 011 154—12 16 2
Lincoln Northeast (24-12) ............... 001 100—2 6 2
W: Albrecht. L: Rall. 2B: CP, Dineen, Ryan.
Creighton Prep 14, Lincoln NE 4
Elman and Kanger drove in four runs each as the Junior Jays staved off elimination in a game that ended in the sixth inning because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Prep led 4-2 after two innings and broke the game open with a six-run third. The Junior Jays sent 12 batters to the plate in that third inning and knocked out Rockets starter Jordan Schroer, who lasted 213 innings.
Elman tossed a five-hitter and boosted his record to 6-1 with the victory.
Schroer singled, tripled and hit a two-run homer in a losing effort for Northeast.
Lincoln Northeast ............... 020 020—4 5 3
Omaha Creighton Prep ............... 226 004—14 12 3
W: Elman. L: Schroer. 2B: CP, Kanger. 3B: LNE, Schroer. HR: LNE, Schroer.
Contact the writer: