KEARNEY — Kearney batters delivered in the clutch.
Piling up two-out hits, Kearney Runza seniors pulled away for a 6-1 victory over Millard West Roof Tech in Saturday’s first round of the Class A American Legion State Tournament National Division at Kearney’s Memorial Field.
Seth Stroh’s two-out triple in the third inning scored two runs.
Sam Engberg’s two-out double in the fourth drove in two more runs.
And Mason Casper’s solo home run to left field in the fifth meant that all but one of Kearney’s runs came with two outs.
“Anytime you get two-out hits that score runs, a lot of times that’s a difference-maker,” Kearney coach Brad Archer said.
The big two-out hits were preceded by offensive boosts — two singles before Stroh’s triple, and a walk and an error before Engberg’s double all came with two outs.
“They did a phenomenal job hitting with two outs,” Millard West coach Steve Frey said. “We have to have better focus with two outs. That was kind of the name of the game today.”
At the plate, Millard West came out swinging and had a little two-out magic of its own. Ryan David’s double scored Max Anderson, who had singled, giving the high school state champions a 1-0 lead. But Kearney pitcher Brandt Groskreutz returned the next nine batters then got the help from two double plays to shut out Millard West the last six innings.
“Early in the game he did a good job painting the corners, keeping the ball down, blowing them away. They have a lot of big boys who can hit a lot of deep balls. Fortunately for us, we kept them in the ballpark,” Archer said.
Groskreutz struck out just two batters while scattering six hits.
“We hit the ball really well today, a lot of line drives, but they were line drives right at them. We just couldn’t put some hits together,” Frey said.
Groskreutz has been a forgotten figure in Kearney’s pitching staff. After a busy high school season, he worked through a sore shoulder at the start of the Legion season.
Then, when Kearney lost its closer, Chandler Welker, to injury, Groskreutz became the closer. That was about the time Kearney’s starting pitcher started throwing complete games.
“Brandt probably went a month without pitching,” Archer said. “Then we started working him back in the starting rotation and he’s looked great the last couple outings.”
Kearney will play Gretna, an 8-4 winner over Scottsbluff, in Sunday’s 7 p.m. game, while Omaha South and Lincoln Southwest will play in the 4 p.m. winners’ bracket game.
Millard North and Papillion-La Vista square off in the first elimination game at 10 a.m. with Scottsbluff and Millard West playing at 4 p.m.
Gretna 8, Scottsbluff 4
Gretna rallied for five runs in the fifth inning — an outburst that included two hits, two Scottsbluff errors a walk and a hit batter — to erase a 4-1 deficit, allowing Gretna to go on to win 8-4.
Bryant Jeary’s double to center was the big blow in the inning, scoring three runs.
Jeary and Bryce Grimm had two hits each for Gretna. Joe Weis was the winning pitcher.
Harrison Baez drove in two runs for Scottsbluff and he pitched a complete game, taking the loss.
Lincoln Southwest 4, Millard North 3
Nathan Matthews’ two-run double to the fence with one out in the seventh gave Lincoln Southwest the walk-off victory. Matthews finished with three hits.
Carson Stille, who pitched the last inning in relief of starter Dylan Cox, was the winning pitcher.
Each team had seven hits.
Omaha South 3, Papillion-La Vista 2
Omaha South connected for five straight hits, including a double by Victor Rivas, to score all three of its runs in the fifth inning.
Noah Leng had three hits for Omaha South and Allan Goldsberry had two hits for Papillion-La Vista.