Getting the nerves out

Bears drop 1st-round game in state baseball return


The Blair High School baseball program returned to the NSAA Class B State Championships on Saturday morning with a loss.
The second-seeded Elkhorn North Wolves, the two-time defending state champions, bested No. 7 Blair 7-3 at Tal Anderson Field in Omaha. The loss knocked the Bears (11-12 overall), who hadn't appeared in a state game since 2017, into a win-or-go-home elimination contest Monday against Plattsmouth at Papillion-La Vista South.
“At this point, everything's on the line,” BHS senior Brady Brown said.
A slow start cost the Bears against the Wolves (18-7), who'd previously bested coach John Roan's squad 6-0 during the regular season.
“In the cage and everything, everyone was loose. Everything was fine,” Brown said. “Then it got to game time and, I think, the nerves started kicking in for a lot of us.”
After Tanner Jacobson's infield single during the top half of the frame, Elkhorn North scored four runs during the bottom half against Blair starting pitcher Dylan Swanson. The Bears aided the Wolves' offensive showing, committing an error and losing another ball in the sun to start.
“For 6.5 innings, we played really, really, really good baseball. Hit the ball really well,” Roan said. “It’s just that bottom half of the first inning that really, kind of, doomed us.”
Swanson was hit by a pitch and Blaine Rosenbaum took his place on the basepath during the top of the second inning, but pitcher Colin Nowaczyk and North maintained their lead. The Wolves added to it, too, during the bottom half when Christopher Thiessen cleared the 330-foot left field fence for a two-run homer.
Down 6-0, the Bears needed answers. Brown and J'Shawn Unger provided some during the fourth frame.
With catcher Nate Wachter already on base, Brown first blasted an RBI triple into centerfield for BHS' first state baseball run in seven years. Unger stepped into the batter's box next, hammering another run-scoring triple into the Omaha Mavericks' artificial turf outfield.
“It just feels really good, especially going back-to-back like that,” Brown said. “It really got the energy going.”
It didn't surprise Roan who produced in the big moment.
“Those guys are two of our best,” the coach said. “They're going to step up and they're going to make plays for us.”
Brown knew what he had to do in the situation, too.
“In a tough game, it takes a guy or two to be able to get those big hits to get everything rolling,” the South Dakota State recruit said. “Those two hits just kind of got things rolling and put our team in position to have a good inning.”
Swanson and Owen Mann walked back-to-back from there, loading the bases for Nelson Kosch, who hit into a fielder's choice for the Bears' third run. The junior outfielder stole second base, too, but a popout and a groundout ended his team's threat.
Through four innings, Blair trailed 6-3. It didn't get any closer either despite a Jacobson walk and a Wachter single during the fifth frame.
Elkhorn North, however, added a run in the fifth as it continued its title defense with a four-run victory.
“The unfortunate part of a game like that, especially when you're playing a team like that, is that every little mistake is magnified,” Roan said. “So, when you run yourself out of the first inning, that's tough. When you run yourself out of the fifth inning, that's tough.”
Miscues on the bases and in the field ultimately cost the Bears against their fellow Eastern Midlands Conference foe.
“You can't make those kinds of mistakes on a big stage like this and against a team like that,” Roan continued. “They'll capitalize on our mistakes just like we need to capitalize on their's.”
Even in defeat, though, Brown was hopeful his team's nerves were out of the way during the double-elimination tournament. If they are, he believes his team can beat anybody in the Class B bracket.
“Going into next time, our team should have the utmost confidence at the plate,” the senior said. “I just feel that, whoever’s on the mound, we can take care of business. If we back him up defensively, we’re going to win.”
Roan didn't disagree.
“I think getting that first one out of the way is going to be very, very beneficial for us,” the coach said. “You could tell there in the first inning that there was a lot of nerves.”
It was not all that unexpected for a team making its school's first state tourney appearance in seven years.
Roan said, “I think that Monday will be a different story.”

Saturday at Tal Anderson Field, Omaha
No. 2 Elkhorn North 7, No. 7 Blair 3
BHS (11-12) 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 — 3 4 3
EN (18-7) 4 2 0 0 1 0 X — 7 9 0

Blair Baseball