It seemed after their early tournament games that the First National Bank North Platte Nationals had solved their early-season issues on offense, but the 2018 Chadron Wood Bat host team was unable to come up with a run, and lost by a score of 4-0 in Sunday’s championship game with the Alliance Spartans.
Alliance went up early in the game with two runs in the top of the first. The early scores were all the Spartans would need to as they held the Nationals to just three hits in the game.
“We were making contact with the ball, and hitting it pretty good,” said Chadron Coach Mitch Barry, “but we were hitting it right at them.”
Alliance Post 7 pitcher Trebvor Dubray threw 81 pitches in the contest, striking out nine batters total and walking just one.
After giving up just two runs after the first inning, one in the second, and one in the third, the FNBNP Nationals held fast defensively, keeping Alliance off the score sheet for the remainder of the game despite having given up 11 hits.
Chadron’s Colton Olson pitched the entire game, recording eight strike outs, and walking four. Teammates Corbin Johnson, Dan Dunbar, and Coy Bila had the team’s three hits.
Alliance ended the tournament with a perfect 4-0 record, but was nearly beaten in their final game of pool play. Were it not for late game heroics via a walk-off double from Cade Pfeiffer that sprung the final two runs the team needed for the victory, Alliance would have found itself in a three-way tie with Gering and Gordon for the pool A top seed.
Prior to the final inning the Gordon Regulators had held the Spartans scoreless, while managing three runs of their own.
Alliance’s other two wins came against Martin, SD and Gering on Friday.
Chadron very nearly missed the final game of the tournament after having lost to Valentine 9-7 in the final game of pool play Sunday afternoon, bringing them into a three-way tie with Valentine and Sidney for the first seed among pool B teams.
With the leader unable to be determined by the tournament’s first tie-breaker, the pool B standings had to be settled by way of fewest runs allowed.
Chadron entered its final game against Valentine leading in that category having surrendered only three runs to Valentine’s seven. Sidney was left behind in the third spot, having given up fifteen throughout their games.
A win in the game would have guaranteed Chadron’s place in the championship game, but a loss would do the same so long they could keep the runs-allowed margin in their favor.
After getting down 5-2 early in the game, Chadron managed to fight their way back drawing within one after a fantastic effort that saw Clayton Vahrenkamp, with two outs, duel with Alliance’s Dubray for eleven pitches before Vahrenkamp sent a ball into left field that would score teammate Trevor Berry to make it 6-5 Alliance.
With the count full, Vahrenkamp began fouling pitch after pitch to stay alive.
“I kept fouling them off, I kept fighting, I kept doing what I had to do to stay in the game,” Vahrenkamp said of the effort. “It came to the end - I fouled off five or six pitches at the end, and then finally got the hit I needed.”
Any excitement for a comeback at that point was stymied by Alliance who went on to put up three runs in the top of the final inning to lead Chadron 9-5. Not only had they given themselves a big lead, but the nine runs allowed meant the two teams were tied at 12 in that category.
Had the game ended at 9-5, with each team tied with two wins, and also tied with 12 runs allowed, the decision on who would play in the championship game would have come down to a coin toss.
Luckily for the FNBNP Nationals, a two-RBI double from Luke Tiensvold, the team’s most reliable hitter in the tournament, brought the final score to 9-7, meaning they’d lost the game, but won the battle for the tie-breaker.
Tiensvold had eight hits in 14 trips to the plate during the tournament and led the Nationals with six RBIs. The junior was also good in center field, at one point catching a fly ball, then making a great throw from center to the plate that was accurate and timely enough for catcher Cole Madsen to straddle home plate and defend it from the incoming runner.
The Nationals entered the tournament with a dismal 1-5 record which they’ve now improved to 3-7. Despite backing their way into the final game, and losing, the team made steps forward in their process, even if they continued to be the victim of sloppy play from time to time.
“We definitely took a step forward. Coming in we were 1-5. We weren’t very confident in our hitting,” Barry says, “Valentine we struggled at times, we kind of took a step back in (that) game. Then against Alliance we came back and hit the ball. Again, we hit it right to them, we had some solid shots, but that’s just the way it goes.”
Aside from earning some confidence on offense, Chadron also received solid performances from a couple of its younger players.
“It (was) a huge contribution. Curt Bruhn came in and pitched in the Valentine game and did what he was supposed to do,” Barry says. “He came in and threw strikes, got ground balls, and we made plays. Cole Madsen has been hitting the ball well so we’ve got to get him in more.
It’s key to get these Juniors in because we have to bring six of them up and they have to be able to contribute.”
The Nationals don’t play until Tuesday, June 12 when they travel to Gordon to play the Gordon-Rushville Regulators.