There’s two ways to look at this year’s Class A state baseball tournament.
On one hand, it was one of the most unpredictable tournaments. The lower-seeded teams pulled surprises throughout, especially seventh seed Lincoln Northeast and eighth seed Lincoln East.
On the other, the tourney played out as many expected. It was ultimately captured by Omaha Creighton Prep, which entered the double-elimination event with the top ranking and top seed.
It didn’t look good for the Junior Jays when they lost in the first round to Lincoln East. Dropping into the losers bracket that early in the tournament is usually bad news, but coach Pat Mooney’s resilient squad had other ideas.
Prep relied on its deep pitching to win elimination games against Lincoln Southwest (5-3), Millard South (5-2) and Millard North (4-3). That boosted the Junior Jays into Thursday’s final day, but they still had to beat Northeast twice.
No problem for Prep, which took care of business by a combined score of 26-6. Not much ever seems to rattle teams from the school that has been to the tourney 34 times, gone to 18 finals and won nine championships.
But Mooney downplayed any talk of history playing a role in the Junior Jays’ most recent championship.
“Half the time our guys don’t know what day it is,” he said. “I don’t think they were concentrating too much on what has happened in the past.”
Prep, which finishes as the No. 1 team in the Nebraska Top 10, received important contributions throughout its lineup to secure that title. Taylor Elman and Jeff Albrecht turned in strong pitching performances on the final day and every starter either scored a run or had an RBI Thursday as the Junior Jays pounded out 28 hits in the two games.
“Those guys are scary,” Northeast coach Jerome Ehrlich said. “They’ve got an incredible team, and they just took charge.”
Prep’s impressive tourney march shouldn’t overshadow the performances turned in by the Rockets and the Spartans. They were the two lowest seeds and provided some of the tournament’s most compelling games.
Northeast surprised second seed Millard West in a first-round game, and then rattled off three more wins to reach the final day undefeated. The Rockets put on a great show before running into a determined Prep squad, and those two losses Thursday shouldn’t diminish what Ehrlich’s team accomplished at state.
The Spartans also had a memorable tourney, knocking off Metro Conference powers Prep and Millard West. Mike Sterns’ scrappy squad finally ran out of gas Wednesday in a 5-2 loss against Northeast.
Mention also should be made of Millard North, which won its first two games but lost a pair of one-run heartbreakers to Northeast and Prep. With a couple of breaks, it might have been the Mustangs playing for the championship Thursday.
Overall, it was one of the most enjoyable tournaments in recent memory. The weather was great, the crowds were large and the games — which featured several upsets — were unpredictable.
Put another Class A varsity season in the books, with Prep writing the final chapter.
Class B: Omaha Skutt’s Matt Warren tossed a no-hitter on the first tourney day against Waverly. Not to be outdone, Lincoln Pius X pitcher Dan LeDuc then threw a no-hitter against the SkyHawks.
How often does a team throw a no-hitter then get no-hit in the next game? A rarity indeed.
The Thunderbolts went on to capture their first title with a dramatic 2-1 win against Norris in the final. Pius fans will long remember the diving catch made by center fielder Chris Bodfield in the sixth inning that preserved the lead.
Great catch, great game. A fitting end to the state baseball season in the fourth and final tournament game Thursday night at Haymarket.
Statistics, ballots needed: Coaches are reminded to submit their final statistics and All-Nebraska ballots as soon as possible. They may be faxed to 402-444-1238 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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