Sam Engberg baseball state vs GI

Sam Engberg (14) leaps over the catcher trying to score on a sac fly.

LINCOLN — Kearney kept its season alive in an elimination game against Grand Island on Tuesday afternoon at Sherman Field in Lincoln.

The Bearcats scored five runs in the third inning and received a strong performance from Mason Casper on the mound to defeat the Islanders 9-2 in a Class A state baseball tournament game.

It’s the Bearcats’ first-ever win in the state tournament. It also is their fourth win against the Islanders this season.

“I thought Mason Casper settled in as the game went on,” coach Brad Archer said. “I don’t know if nerves got to him in the first inning. That would surprise me knowing Mason, but once he settled down, I think that settled us all down from there.

“From that point on, I thought the kids did a nice job with their approach at the plate.”

Grand Island’s Broc Douglass led off the first inning with a double, and scored two batters later when Casper threw a wild pitch on a 0-2 count.

The Bearcats (18-9) nearly evened the score in the second. With the bases loaded and no outs, Jaxon Worley hit a fly ball to center fielder Keyin Wentling. It wasn’t deep enough to score a run, though, as Wentling threw out Sam Engberg at home plate.

Although they didn’t score in the inning, it was a glimpse of what was ahead for the Bearcats against Islanders right-handed pitcher Javier Cruz.

In the third inning, the Bearcats squared up Cruz and rallied for five runs. Nine-hole hitter Trey Rodriguez launched a fly ball over the left fielder’s head for a double to begin the inning.

With runners on the corner, Cruz tried to pickoff Layne Shiers at first base. His throw sailed into right field and scored Rodriguez from third.

Casper drew a bases-loaded walk for the go-ahead run, Seth Stroh lined a single into left-center field for two runs and Brandt Groskreutz tapped a single up to middle to push the Bearcats ahead 5-1.

“The second inning showed us that we could hang,” Casper said. “To put those runners on and put pressure on like that helps you to have confidence going into the next inning.”

Groskreutz delivered a RBI single with two outs in the fifth inning to increase the Bearcats’ advantage.

Casper surrendered one run to the Islanders (19-11) in the sixth inning before exiting the contest with two outs in the frame. He allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and one walk while striking out seven batters against the Islanders.

Groskreutz finished the game for the Bearcats. He had a bounce back performance, allowing just one base runner, after permitting the game-winning run to Elkhorn South in the Bearcats’ first game of the state tournament Saturday.

“It helps when your offense plays as well as we did today,” Casper said. “We put a lot of pressure on their defense, and in turn, it gives us confidence to go out and play good defense and fill the zone.”

The Bearcats notched three insurance runs in the sixth.

Brayden Miller and Stroh each tallied three hits to lead the Bearcats’ offense.

Up next, the Bearcats will play Archbishop Bergan (15-5) at 4 p.m. (today) Wednesday at Sherman Field in an elimination game. The Knights lost to Millard West 2-0 on Tuesday after defeating Gretna 5-3 in their first game of the tournament Saturday.

The Knights are averaging 6.3 runs and allowing 3.4 runs per game this season.

“I always thought the toughest game to play in a double-elimination tournament is the game after you lose,” Archer said. “If you come out and win that game, everyone is excited again and ready to go.”

@DanZielinski3​

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