The Blair Senior Legion baseball team arrived at Vets Field on Wednesday afternoon planning to play two games.
The Bears played just five innings.
An eight-run second frame boosted the Bennington Post 266 Badgers past Post 154, 12-2, and into the Class B State Tournament in Gering. The champions improved to 5-0 during the double-elimination Class B Area 3 Tournament in Blair, while the Bears finished the six-day bracket 2-2. They'd have needed to reach 4-1 to advance.
“It's tough to lose, especially with a great bunch of kids like this that worked so hard all season long,” Post 154 coach James Bilslend said. “We were 6-9 in high school ball. Then to come out 29-9 in the summertime playing Class A and B schools, that says something about the boys and how hard they worked.”
A season's worth of hard work couldn't get the Bears out of the second inning, though. Bennington scored seven runs before Blair notched its first out and finished the frame with eight runs on seven hits, a walk and an error.
Combined with their two first-inning runs, the Badgers led 10-0 through just two.
“Momentum is a fickle beast,” Bilslend said. “It just keeps going and going, and that's what we ran into.”
Jacob Rodriguez notched a fourth-inning RBI and Auggie Rasmussen had a fifth-inning solo homer, but the Bears couldn't get themselves back into the game. They needed two wins against Bennington to reach the state tournament and wound up losing by run-rule in one.
Still, Bilslend was proud of his team's efforts in May, June and July. He listed its Lewis & Clark Classic tournament title — when the Bears won six games in three days — as a highlight.
The coach also congratulated his coaching staff, and Jake Macdonald, Jack Nielsen and Caddon Keatts — who played their final American Legion seasons this summer — for their efforts.
“Everybody contributed,” Bilslend said.
Overall, the Post 154 Seniors ended their season 29-9. Four of those losses came to the state-bound Badgers.
Blair moves on with walk-off win
The Blair Bears earned their B3 Tournament title shot with a 1-0, walk-off elimination game win Tuesday night against Elkhorn Mount Michael.
In a 0-0 game during the bottom of the seventh inning, Nielsen laid down a bunt picked up by the Knights' third baseman and thrown to first. The ball sailed, going well over the Mount Michael first baseman's head.
Catcher Aidan Mohr had singled to lead-off the inning, but was subbed out for a little more speed on the base path. So, when the Knights' error was committed, it was the the pinch runner that took off, running around second base.
“That's what I've got Quincy (Nichols) for,” Mohr said.
Nichols scored from first base on the Mount Michael miscue, handing the Bears a 1-0 victory.
“I kind of turned and looked to see where the ball went,” the speedster said. “And, then, as I saw the guy jump and miss it, I just kind of took off running as fast as I could.”
Up to that point, it was Post 154 pitcher Treyton Jones and his defense that had kept the game scoreless. Ten days after he'd last pitched, the righty threw 6 2/3 innings with just two hits allowed and five strikeouts on 103 pitches.
Jones' last game had been July 13 against Omaha Bryan.
“I didn't have the outing I wanted (against Bryan), so I figured I'd come out and have the outing that I did,” he said.
Jones hit his pitch limit during the top of the seventh inning with two outs. Coach Bilslend came out to the mound and took the ball from him.
“He just said, 'Heck of a game. That's what we needed out of you,'” Jones recalled. “I couldn't help but smile.”
Blair relief pitcher Colin Quick struck out the one batter he faced before Mohr led off the last half-inning of the ballgame.
Bennington edges Blair, 6-3
For three innings Monday night, the Bennington and Blair Senior Legion baseball teams were stuck at 3-3.
But with opportunities running out in the seventh inning, the Post 266 Badgers cracked a two-out triple, setting off a string of two walks, two RBI singles and a hit batsmen. The end result — a 6-3 Bennington victory.
As it turned out, it was the first of two during the B3 Tourney.
Early on, the Badgers took a 3-0 lead during the second inning. Post 154 pitcher Matt Dreher granted four walks during the frame, but also finished it off with two of his five strikeouts.
Blair, meanwhile, scored its three runs during the third inning. Rasmussen's infield knock pulled the Bears within 3-1 before Quick then scored Nielsen with a sacrifice.
Rasmussen later slid into home safe to pull Post 154 even.
Bennington eventually pulled ahead during the seventh inning, but nearly did during the fourth. Bears left-fielder Max Nickerson threw out a Badger, who was trying to score from second base on a single, at the plate. Mohr, the catcher, tagged the base runner out at the feet, while the runner tried to leap over him.