Blair Senior Legion second baseman AJ Bilslend took Lynn R. Pruess Field in Bennington with a brand new look for the start of the Eastern Nebraska Baseball League (ENBL) Tournament on Tuesday.
His eye-black mustache never smeared, and his teammates never got tired of it through two victories against the host Badgers and Wahoo State Bank.
“It just took me about 10 seconds, you know?” said Bilslend when asked how long it'd taken him to grow his upper-lip hair. He grinned and said, “You've got to crack a joke every once and awhile.”
The Bears were no joke on the field, improving to 4-1 on the season with back-to-back ENBL tourney wins.
“Pretty much my fastball was working,” Post 154 pitcher Max Nickerson said after earning a 7-1 win against Bennington. “Change-up occasionally, but mostly fastball.”
The right-hander finished with just two hits allowed through six innings of work. He added six strikeouts and walked just two batters before TJ Swaney closed out the seventh frame.
In support, the Bears scored a run during both the first and second innings before breaking the game open with four scores during the sixth. Auggie Rasmussen pushed across Cade Ulven and Keaton Kelberlau in the second-to-last inning with a knock over the Bennington rightfielder's head before Quincy Nichols sacrificed to score him.
Bilslend scored on an error to push Blair's lead to 6-1. Then, during the top of the seventh frame, Ulven cranked his first high school home run over the left field fence.
“It's our turn this year,” Nickerson said. Bennington has been a thorn in Blair's side for much of his Legion career. “They weren't ready this morning. We woke them up, but I think we're a better team anyway.”
The victory over the tournament hosts led directly into the Bears' 14-3 win over Wahoo. Coach James Bilslend's squad led from the beginning, tallying six runs during the first inning.
Rasmussen finished with four RBIs, while Bilslend had three and Colin Quick added two. Nichols, Jacob Rodriguez, Ben Aguilera and Nolan Osterhaus added one apiece, too.
Blair pitchers Jason Stewart, Aidan Mohr and Aguilera combined to allow just three Wahoo runs and seven strikeouts.
“This tournament is important,” said AJ Bilslend, who still wore a dark eye-black mustache as his team left the dugout. “Bennington is a good team, and beating them kind of set the table for us.”
The ENBL tourney continued Wednesday and was scheduled to have a Thursday afternoon championship game. Full results will appear in next Tuesday's Washington County Pilot-Tribune.
Bears drop South Omaha title game
The Blair Seniors fell one win shy of the South Omaha tournament title last Sunday, dropping the championship game 5-1 to Hastings at Brown Park.
Hastings scored two runs during the first frame, one in the third and two in the fourth before the Bears scored their first and only run during the sixth inning. Nickerson scored his team's lone run, while Nichols, Bilslend, Stewart and Swaney notched hits.
Nichols, Swaney and Aguilera pitched to a single strikeout each.