The rain delay was more than an hour earlier, but the Wednesday night air in Omaha was still heavy and the grass still damp.
So, during the bottom of the seventh inning of the Class B Area 3 Tournament final, Blair Junior Legion infielder Greyson Kay knew not to get ahead of himself. He believed his Post 154 Bears were state bound, but they needed one more out to seal the deal.
With the ball in the air off of a Waterloo-Valley bat, Kay watched and analyzed the situation.
“I was like, 'Hayden, you've got to squeeze it,'” the Bear said. “I didn't know if the ball would be slippery or anything, but, yeah, he caught it. So, we're good.”
Right fielder Hayden Berg gloved the final out of the 4-2 ballgame and Blair celebrated its district title. After his second dominant pitching performance in as many days, Lee Chavez-Lara bellowed, flexed and reveled in the moment.
“That we're going to state,” Hunter Travis said when asked what he was thinking in the moment. “And we're not done yet.”
Blair's perfect, 3-0 run through the district tournament qualified it for the Class B state event in Waverly. The Bears started play Saturday, beating Chadron 9-8.
Post 154 built a 9-2 lead through six innings in the opener, but it took a 45-pitch seventh frame to finally close it out. Eli Morgan earned the pitching win.
Joe Rodriguez, meanwhile, had the biggest Blair hit. The catcher's two-run homer during the fifth frame pushed the Bears' lead to 7-2.
“That felt great. It felt awesome,” he said. “I've been struggling at the plate lately — thinking too much up there. But I just cleared my mind and had a level swing.”
Berg led the winning team with four RBIs during a 2-for-4 afternoon in which he hit two doubles. Kaden Sears and Nathan Wachter pushed across runs, too, as Post 154 moved onto a second-round matchup against Pierce. Results for that game and any additional state games the Bears may play will be published in Friday's Washington County Enterprise.
To reach the state tourney, though, Post 154 had to finish its business at Omaha Roncalli. Waterloo-Valley needed to beat the Bears twice to advance, but coach AJ Bilslend's team needed just one more victory Wednesday to move on.
It got it.
“I'm just super happy for these guys,” the coach said in the aftermath. “They've worked super hard all season.”
Bilslend knows how big a state qualification is. He finished his American Legion playing days just last summer.
“This was my main goal,” he added. “Just to get these guys to do something that I never really got the chance to do.”
Blair started its march to Waverly with two runs through the first three innings against Waterloo-Valley. Ethan Baessler kicked things off with a first-frame triple before Kay knocked him.
“It's huge to get that first run across,” the latter said. “It shuts them down.”
The pair built more momentum, repeating their feat during the third with a pair of singles — Baessler first and Kay second for his second RBI.
The Bears' lead later grew to 3-0 in the fourth inning when Baessler hammered a two-out double to the left field fence, scoring Morgan.
All the while, Chavez-Lara and his catcher, Rodriguez, combined for four no-hit innings. Less than 24 hours after he closed out Post 154's semifinal victory, adhering to a strict, team-decided pitch limit, the right-hander was dominant again. Chavez-Lara didn't allow a Waterloo-Valley hit until the fifth frame.
“That was amazing,” Bilslend said. “Super proud.”
The pitcher and his teammates operated with their usual bravado, too. The boisterousness hasn't made fans out of their opposition during the summer months, but it has produced victories.
“We knew coming into this game that we were going to win,” Chavez-Lara said. “Walk out of here with a win and go to state.”
Blair's Hunter Travis did his part, providing run support. He pushed the Bears' lead to 4-0 in the sixth inning, plating another run with his own triple.
“I just saw people shifting over, so I decided to take it to right field,” the slugger said. “A guy was on third, so I was just trying to get him in so we could have some insurance runs.”
Waterloo-Valley tallied two scores during the bottom half of the sixth, but because of Travis' work, it still trailed by two runs. They were two runs Post 154's foe wouldn't score.
After hitting the first batter he faced in the seventh, Chavez-Lara and his teammates recorded three straight outs. They cinched the district title with Berg's glove work in right field and celebrated a Junior Legion state berth.