The Blair Senior Legion baseball team arrived at the Eastern Nebraska Baseball League (ENBL) Tournament on Tuesday with a doubleheader on their minds.
If the Post 154 Bears (17-4 overall) could best Wahoo State Bank, they'd get another shot against the host Badgers.
“I think you need to take it one game at a time,” second baseman Auggie Rasmussen said. “But its always in the back of your mind — playing Bennington. They're the state champs.”
Coach James Bilslend's squad needed two extra innings to take down Wahoo 7-4, but it did, earning a shot against the school season's Class B state champions.
The Bears led the Badgers 3-2 through five innings, but saw a few miscues turn into a six-run inning during the sixth. Bennington, for a second time during the American Legion season, earned the win between teams with the letter “B” on their ballcaps. This time, it was by an 8-3 score.
“It's definitely frustrating to be right there, knowing that you have the ability to beat them,” Blair centerfielder Jack Nielsen said.
Post 154 had the advantage, building its one-run lead with RBIs by Gunnar Ogle, Aidan Mohr and Treyton Jones — who broke the 2-all tie with a fifth-inning single up the middle of the field. The visitors just couldn't get through the sixth inning without incident.
Blair pitcher Quincy Nichols, who earned the Wahoo win in relief, walked the first two Badger batters he faced during the bottom of the sixth frame, giving the home team the necessary ammunition for a comeback.
From there, Bennington notched back-to-back RBI singles before a sacrifice fly made the score 5-3 in its favor. The home team added three more runs before the Bears could get out of the inning.
Two outs later, a diving catch in right field ended Blair's last chance at the plate as the Badgers won 8-3 in seven frames.
“We've just got to wipe the last two innings of this game out of our minds, you know?” Nielsen said as Post 154 turned the page to its Wednesday elimination game back in Bennington. Results for that contest — and the rest of the Bears' ENBL Tourney run, should they advance — will be in Tuesday's Washington County Pilot-Tribune.
To earn that Wednesday spot on the bracket, however, Blair topped Wahoo State Bank by three runs in their Tuesday tournament opener. With the score tied 4-4, Nichols led off the top of the ninth inning with a single to right field. The speedster turned his 3-2 pitch hit into a spot at second base when he stole with Mohr at the plate. The catcher later reached base on an error, subbing out for a pinch runner — Ogle — who moved to second base on Jones' walk.
With the bases loaded and a new Wahoo pitcher on the mound, Nielsen notched a two-RBI single. AJ Bilslend's RBI single gave the game its final score — 7-4 — after Nichols closed the Warriors out with a 1-2-3 pitching frame.
“We let it drag out a little too long,” Rasmussen said of the nine-inning win. “We should have just did what we did in the last inning in the seventh.”
Just as they did in their second game against Bennington, the Bears' let a late-game lead — 4-3 in the sixth frame — slip away. Still, Blair impressed with its prowess at the plate to build that advantage.
During the fourth inning, Max Nickerson followed up Jacob Rodriguez's double with a sac fly to score Colin Quick.
Later, Rasmussen hit a two-RBI double to give his Post 154 squad a 3-2 advantage. Jason Stewart created another one-run advantage, 4-3, in the sixth with a sac fly.
Ultimately, the Bears prevailed, earning the shot against Bennington. That game, though, went to the state champs.