HASTINGS — Another win. Another day off. And one more win away from the state tournament.
The Kearney Post 52 Juniors accomplished all that with a 3-1 victory of Hastings Johnson Imperial Homes Sunday afternoon at Hastings’ Duncan Field.
Hastings will play North Platte today with the winner advancing to play Kearney in the Area 7 Tournament championship needing to win two over Kearney to advance to the state tournament in Lincoln.
“This is kind of what we were hoping it would set up as,” Kearney coach Matt Connot said. “Hastings and North Platte can go at each other tomorrow and for our benefit, I hope they burn through about six pitchers because they have a lot of them — both of them.”
Kearney has shown its own pitching through its two games of the area tournament. Carter Krause pitched a shutout against Scottsbluff in the first round and Cal Higgins mastered Hastings on Sunday. Higgins pitched six strong innings, striking out eight. He gave up five hits and walked two.
“Cal threw well. He was in command for the most part the majority of the game,” Connot said. “The nice thing with him was he was strong all the way to the end. Sometimes he will hit a wall about two-thirds of the way through the game and it’s a matter if he gets through that little bit.
“When he does that, he has a tendency to give up two, three or four runs and that wasn’t the case today.”
Higgins kept Hastings off the board through the first five innings. A one-out triple in the sixth turned into Hastings’ only run. Tanner Johnson and Brayden Andersen combined to pitch the seventh and preserve the win.
Kearney’s offense awoke against Hastings pitcher Trayton Newman in the fifth. Thanks to a double play in the second inning, Newman had faced the minimum through four. He also got the first two batters in the fifth before Alex Schall beat out an infield single. Krause followed with a single to left and Carson Schnacker delivered the big blow, a fly ball down the right-field line.
“I don’t know how much that ball was fair by, but it wasn’t fair by much,” Connot said.
Schall and Krause scored easily and Schnacker was thrown out at third trying to stretch the double into a triple.
“The bottom half of our order with Schall, Krause and Schnacker and those guys, they jump-started that inning for us,” Connot said.
Cale Conrad posted Kearney’s third run in the sixth. He drew a lead-off walk and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Johnson. After an infield ground out pushed him to third, he came home when a pickoff throw by the catcher got past the third baseman.