Big Sticks drop Expedition League Championship Series opener
GERING, Neb. — In the first game of the inaugural Expedition League Championship Series, the Badlands Big Sticks could not hold an early lead against Western Nebraska.
The Pioneers scored four in the bottom of the fourth inning and tacked on another three in the eighth en route to an 11-5 triumph in the opener of a best-of-three series on Friday, Aug. 10 from Oregon Trail Park Stadium.
Western Nebraska led 3-1 thanks to back-to-back home runs from Brandon Bohning and Will Olson in the bottom of the second. The Big Sticks responded in the top of the third.
Catcher Ben Thoma earned a free pass with one out. Badlands center fielder Auggie Francis and shortstop Wyatt Setian followed with two-out walks to load the bases against Pioneers starting pitcher Cal Beardsley.
Third baseman Drew Staley stepped to the plate and cleared the bases with an RBI double, giving the Big Sticks a 4-3 advantage.
Western Nebraska continued to put pressure of Badlands starting pitcher Matt Graser. After Lane Harvey tied the game with an RBI single, the Pioneers took the lead for good with a three-run blast from Luther Woullard.
Big Sticks right-hander Sam Rehn entered in relief in the bottom of the sixth, but could not escaping the inning unscathed as Western Nebraska added an unearned run, making the score 8-4. Graser was charged with eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits and two walks through 5 ⅔ innings.
The Lewis Division champions did not go down quietly, though. Christian Padilla closed the gap with a solo shot in the top of the eighth. Badlands kept the train rolling as Karson Backer got aboard with a two-out single and Eli Jung reached after he was hit by a pitch from Logan Gilbertson. With two on and two down, Thoma walked into the batter’s box representing the tying-run, but he struck out on a 2-2 pitch to end the threat.
The Pioneers, the Clark division champions, extended their lead in the bottom of the frame, after Jack Pauley connected with his 17th home run of the season, a two-run smash off Dakota Weindel. Before the damage was done, Colin Ludwig tacked on with an RBI double.
Badlands went down in order in the top of the ninth as Setian struck out against Jeff Hakanson to end the ballgame.
Western Nebraska will have its chance on Saturday to capture the inaugural Expedition League crown as the two teams link up for Game 2 from Oregon Trail Park Stadium. If the Big Sticks are victorious, the third and deciding game will be play at Dakota Community Bank & Trust Ballpark on Sunday at 6:35 p.m.