Situational execution helps Omaha Burke Black stay alive
In any elimination game, the difference between moving on and going home can be minuscule.
Tri-City Red (Minn.) was mere inches away from ending three separate innings. Instead, Omaha Burke Black (Neb.) scored all six of its runs with two outs in support of starting pitcher Zach Munson.
The right-hander escaped from trouble in the later innings, going the distance in a 6-0 victory during the Central Plains Regional Tournament on Friday, Aug. 10, from the Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark.
After falling to Dubuque County 12-1 less than 24 hours earlier, the Nebraska state champions are still in the hunt for a World Series birth.
"That's just how this group is, they just battle through the inning," Burke Black head coach Scott Hodges said. "It's a testament to them. ... These kids are just grinders and they took yesterday pretty personally. This a really close-knit group that didn't want to go home yet."
With down two and no runners on in the top of the third, Omaha Burke Black shortstop Bobby Jackson lifted a fly ball to the opposite field. Red right fielder Ty Koehn appeared to have a bead on it, but the ball was just out of the reach of his outstretched glove, allowing Jackson to trot into second base for a double.
The road team on the scoreboard immediately took advantage, as Jackson was driven in on an RBI single from Noah Olson for the game's first run. Burke Black padded its lead in similar fashion during the fourth.
Reaching on a fielder's choice, third baseman Nick Hall stood at first with two outs as outfielder Connor McElderry stood at the plate. As Tri-City starting pitcher John Solfest released the 1-1 pitch, Hall took off, briefly pulling Red second baseman Will Rogers toward the bag. McElderry ripped a ground ball toward Rogers' left side, who could not make the stop despite a diving attempt. Going from first to third on the base hit, Hall scored on a Tyler Cate line drive single into right field. During Jackson's third plate appearance, Cate got caught in a rundown, but McElderry sprinted home, sliding just a tick ahead of the tag from catcher Matt Herold.
"We have quite a bit of team speed, which helps us in those close plays. We ended up on the positive side of that," Hodges said. "Kind of the name of our game is putting pressure both with the speed of the game and sometimes psychologically, as our dugout can get pretty loud."
On the mound, Munson remained in control as the Red did not have more than four batters walk to the batter's box in each of the first five frames. That was a different story in the bottom of sixth.
Brett Batman and Carter Traczyk began the inning with back-to-back singles before Solfest, the cleanup hitter, was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with no outs.
Tri-City was on the doorstep, but Munson collected a huge strikeout as Rogers was caught staring at a 3-2 fastball on the corner. Koehn batted next and hit a hard ground ball over to Jackson, who flipped it to Cate, starting the 6-4-3 double play.
"When I was [on the mound], I knew we needed to either get a strikeout or a ground ball, so I had to make sure I was locating my pitches," Munson said. "Once I got the strikeout, I knew I could trust my defense to make it happen."
Facing just a 3-0 deficit, Tri-City still had victory well within reach. The Minnesota state champions recorded the first two outs of the top of the seventh before Rogers, who took over the hill in relief of Solfest, gave away a free base by hitting Jonathan Lortz.
Pinch runner Jabari Mitchell entered for Lortz and stole second base in another close play. After Cade Dungan reached on a hit by pitch, Hall put the game away with an opposite field home run, clearing the right field wall.
"I struggled a little bit on the day, I had two strikeouts and was trying to find the right groove," Hall said. "I just put the bat on the ball, had a good swing and put it over."
Olson ended the game with sliding snag in right field on a line drive off the bat of Cole Stenstrom. The catch completed Munson's shutout, relinquishing six hits and two walks while striking out three.
As the Burke Black await to see who they'd be scheduled against on Saturday, the Red walked off of Astoria Field thinking what might have been.
"We're bummed, man. We thought we had what we needed in the tank," Tri-City head coach Nik Anderson said. "It's not easy coming out of the loser's bracket, but we have a fighters. That game ended 6-0, but that wasn't a 6-0 baseball game."
Omaha Burke Black (Neb.) 6, Tri-City Red (Minn.) 0
OBB 001 200 3 — 6 9 1
TCR 000 000 0 — 0 6 1
OBB: Zach Munson (7.0) and Austin Oetter. TCR: John Solfest (6.0), Will Rodgers (0.2), Josh Bonde (0.1) and Matt Herold.
W—Munson. L—Solfest. HR—OBB: Nick Hall.
Highlights: OBB: Munson 7 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 0 R, 3 K, W; Hall 1-4, 3-R HR, 3 RBI, 2 R; Tyler Cate 2-4, RBI; Connor McElderry 2-4, R. TCR: Solfest 6 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 3 ER, 4 K; Brett Bateman 2-3; Ty Koehn 2-3.