Braden Rump, Tanner Pittman, Cooper Hilgenkamp and Josh Miller last played in a Nebraska American Legion State Tournament in 2017.
Now, four years later, those Eagles make their return.
The Arlington Senior Legion baseball team won the Class B Area 3 Tournament on Tuesday night in West Point, defeating Waterloo-Valley 8-2 in the championship game. Post 71's 4-1 district run earned it a state tourney qualification, matching the 2021 Junior Legion team's accomplishment from mid-July. Those Eagles went 1-2 in state competition.
“I'm ecstatic,” Rump said. “It's going to be awesome.”
The left-handed pitcher picked up the win on the mound, completing all seven innings in 96 pitches. Waterloo-Valley scored two runs during the second frame, but was shutout by Rump and his defense from there on.
“I had a ton of ground balls,” the Nebraska Wesleyan pitcher said. “And, at this point in the season, everyone's loose. I can trust my defense.”
Rump could also trust the Eagles' batting lineup to provide run support. Arlington started with three scores during the first inning, capped by Logan Kaup's sacrifice fly, before adding a fourth run in the second on a Pittman single.
Coach Ed Menking's squad led 4-2 through the fifth frame before Pittman and Nick Smith pushed across two more runs in the sixth. Kaden Pittman and Miller then plated two more Arlington runners in the seventh to tally their team's final margin of victory.
The win clinched the Eagles' state berth, which was the goal of the team's three super seniors — Rump, Pittman and Hilgenkamp. All three graduated from Arlington High School in 2020, but returned to their home ballpark in hopes of recapturing the magic of 2017 all over again.
“We really wanted to recreate that,” Rump said. “So, when us three could come back for a fifth year, we knew it was going to be really fun.”
Before Tuesday's winner-take-all final, though, the Eagles — winners of their first three district games — lost their Monday night opportunity to earn two chances to win one finals contest. With their championship game appearance secure, Post 71 failed against the Fort Calhoun Pioneers, 8-7.
“That's not the way we need to approach it,” Menking said when asked if the Eagles felt comfortable with their title tilt already in the bag. “If you're on a roll, let's stay on a roll.”
It appeared as if Arlington would early. Though Post 348 scored Monday's first run, the Eagles jumped out to 4-1 and 6-2 leads during the first 2.5 innings. Braden Monke, Smith and Rump had RBI knocks as Post 71 built its lead.
“We got up and then when things went south, they stayed south,” Menking said. “We've played better baseball than that the last week and a half, two weeks, and we didn't tonight.”
Fort Calhoun cut Arlington's lead to 6-4 through three innings and overtook the Eagles in the fourth with four runs. Kaup scored a run during the fifth frame, but Arlington couldn't even the score.
“We'll flush it and come back 7:30 tomorrow,” Menking said.
Twenty-four hours later, the Eagles delivered. They beat Waterloo-Valley soundly and moved onto the state tournament in Crete, which begins Saturday. Unofficially, Post 71 will start first-round play at 1 p.m.
Eagles earn spot in finals
Post 71 claimed its finals opportunity with Sunday's 11-3 win against Waterloo-Valley — the same team it'd later defeat in the championship game.
The Eagles scored two first-inning runs and four during the third to jump out to 6-0 lead. Later, they'd notch a four-run sixth frame to end the game an inning early.
Aiden Foreman led Arlington with four RBIs, hitting 2-for-3. Dustin Kirk, meanwhile, was 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.
Defensively, Zach Vanek earned the Post 71 pitching win. He threw 5 2/3 innings, striking out five batters for the Eagles' 12th win of the season.