By Kyle Inman
The Northeastern Junior College baseball team needed two wins in its final two games in Sterling over Western Nebraska Community College to secure the top seed in the Region IX Tournament, but a lack of offense led to two losses Saturday.
The Plainsmen entered the day on a 10-game win streak, which secured them a birth in the tournament. After the 5-2 and 2-1 losses to WNCC, the Plainsmen will be forced to travel to their playoff games whereas two wins would have secured home field advantage.
"We put ourselves in a position now where we will probably be the four seed and we made things harder for ourselves," Coach Bryan Shepherd said. "I felt good before today, but obviously you don't want to go into a tournament on a sour note and today was really sour. We just laid an egg today; it's a matter of taking care of the baseball and who swings the bats at this time of year."
Isaac Taylor's single with runners on first and second in the top of the first inning of game one put WNCC on the scoreboard immediately. Plainsmen pitcher Spenser Dexter was able to get out of a first inning where he threw over 30 pitches with no further damage done outside the one run.
In the bottom of the first, JT Patterson tied the game up with a deep double off the center field fence that scored Easton Adler. Both offenses went stagnant until the top of the fourth when Brandon Bachar singled with the bases loaded to give WNCC a 3-1 advantage.
Still 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, the Plainsmen added a run as Dakota Popham came home on a fielder's choice. NJC loaded the bases up but were unable to capitalize further as Connor McCafferty hit a fly out to end the inning.
The opportunity to host the tournament was still a possibility after the game one loss. They would have needed to win the second game and then hope for a split from other teams to make it happen, but the bats were cold.
Eddy Nodarse got the win on the mound in game one and Zac Moran proved to be just as tough to hit in the second game. It looked as if the Plainsmen would get to the pitcher early as McCafferty scored a runner on a single in the bottom of the second.
WNCC responded with a pair of runs in the top of the third inning and that would be enough as the Plainsmen were only able to come up with four hits and one run off Moran. Neither team scored a run in the final four innings as the Plainsmen suffered a one run loss.
"We just didn't make adjustments," Shepherd said. "We swung their pitches instead of the ones we wanted. We still got good counts today, but we chased pitches."
The Plainsmen will wait for the rest of the league to finish its games before they find out where they will go for the tournament, which begins on Thursday. The tournament is played in double elimination format with the top four teams in the conference battling for a spot in the Western Tournament in Arizona.
Kyle Inman: 970-526-9298, firstname.lastname@example.org