Chadron’s First National Bank-Omaha Juniors came on strong late in the schedule to earn credit for having a superb season.
The Juniors won their final four regular season games, then overwhelmed the opponents in the Class B, District 7 Tournament they hosted, winning four games by a whopping 47-9 margin, and advancing to the State Tournament in Waverly
It was the Juniors’, known for many years as the Midgets, 11th trip to the state tournament dating back to 1954, and the first time since 2015.
Coached by Kyle Sanders and Bubba Paige, with program manager Bruce Parish also very much involved, the Chadron crew showed spunk at the state tourney. They trailed Blair 9-2 going into the bottom of the inning in their first game, but tallied six runs before the last out was recorded, making the final score 9-8.
The Junior Nationals then breezed past Central City in the elimination game, collecting 14 hits and scoring a dozen runs while winning 12-3. Every player in the Chadron lineup had at least one hit and scored at least once.
The season ended the following day, when homestanding Waverly won 4-1. Chadron outhit the winners 6-2, but a couple of errors made much of the difference. All four Waverly runs were unearned. The Nationals finished with a 15-10-1 record.
They were just 6-8-1 before launching their second half surge.
Parish said things have continued to fall into place for the Juniors and the program is solid. He also noted that the Seniors team will benefit next season while adding several of this year’s Juniors.
“We’re getting where we need to be,” the veteran coach said. “We’ve got a lot of kids involved, our parental support is excellent and we’re getting better. The District Tournament showed everybody how good we can be.”
One of the major strengths, Parish said, is the continued development of the pitching staff. With pitch count a huge factor in youth baseball, he emphasized it’s vital a team has numerous capable pitchers.
“We’ve already got quite a few, and we’ll try to develop more during our winter workouts,” Parish noted. “We’ll work with them to come up with an ‘out’ pitch that can put them over the top.”
This year’s busiest pitchers were Broc Berry and Kobe Bissonnette.
Berry threw 34 innings, allowed 26 hits, struck out 39 and walked only 11. He finished with a 4-2 record and a 1.85 earned run average.
Bissonette pitched 30.2 innings, gave up 36 hits, fanned 35 and walked 25. He had a 2-2 record and a 3.88 ERA.
Caden Buskirk, who pitched mostly in relief, also had impressive figures. He pitched 20.1 innings, yielded just 13 hits, struck out 17 and walked seven. While his win-loss record was 0-1, his ERA was a team-best 1.03.
Offensively, 10 Junior Nationals hit above .300.
Noah Brown was the pacesetter with a .410 average. He had 25 hits in 61 at bats and scored 18 runs, thanks, in part, that he stole 19 bases and was thrown out just once. He also drew 10 walks, boosting his on-base percentage to .513.
Bissonnette also hit extra well, getting a team-best 31 hits in 80 at bats for a .387 average. Buskirk compiled a .365 average with 27 hits in 74 at bats, followed closely by Quinn Bailey with a .364 average on 20 hits in 55 at bats. Benefitting from 23 stolen bases in 25 attempts, Bailey scored 22 times to tie Kobe Bissonnette for second on the team for most runs scored.
Jordan Bissonette also hit the ball well, finishing with a .361 average and drew a team-high 15 walks.
Ironically, Drew Milburn, who usually was near the bottom of the batting order, was the team leader in scoring, crossing the plate 26 times. Berry was the RBI leader with 26. Milburn finished with a .339 batting average and Berry hit .329. They were credited with 16 and 18 stolen bases, respectively.
The Juniors also would have gone to the state tournament last year if it had taken place, but it had already been cancelled by the American Legion because of the COVID issue. In dramatic fashion, they won what was called the Panhandle COVID Tournament that they hosted.
Chadron won the first game of the 2020 showdown 8-0, but lost to Alliance the next day 5-4. Thus, the Junior Nats were one loss away from having their season ended. However, they won four straight games, including a 9-6 win over Gering late Saturday night.
The next day, the Juniors won three times in eight hours, eliminating Alliance 7-4 and downing previously undefeated Sidney 9-7 and 4-3. The winning run scored when Seth Gaswick, who had singled, stole second, went to third on a passed ball and came home on Noah Brown’s suicide squeeze in the bottom of the seventh.
The season offensive stats accompany this story: