LINCOLN — Top-seeded Elkhorn South capitalized on a two-out walk in the sixth inning to score the go-ahead run against Kearney on Saturday afternoon at Sherman Field in Lincoln.
It ruined a fifth-inning comeback by the eighth-seeded Bearcats and was the difference in the Class A boys state baseball tournament first round game. The 4-3 loss against the Storm (20-3) pushes the Bearcats into the elimination bracket, as they’ll face Grand Island at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Elkhorn South left-handed pitcher Sayer Diederich kept the Bearcats off balanced at the plate with this fastball-curveball combination. The Nebraska commit went six innings and allowed three unearned runs on three hits and two walks. He also struck out seven batters.
The victory extends the Storm’s winning streak to 18 games.
"We don’t want to do that, but you have to give their kid credit," said coach Brad Archer on the sixth inning. "The Diederich kid pitched a great game for them. He mixed up his pitches and rung up quite a few strikeouts."
In the sixth inning, Kearney reliever Brandt Groskreutz issued a two-out walk to Gage Juhlin. He advanced to second base on a wild pitch.
Elliot Brown was the next batter and laced a 2-2 pitch into right field to score Juhlin for the eventual game-winning run.
The one-run sixth inning came after the Bearcats (17-9) evened the score, 3-3, in the fifth. After Diederich walked the first two batters of the inning, the Bearcats played small ball with speedy nine-hole hitter Trey Rodriguez at the plate.
Rodriguez laid a bunt down the third base line. Diederich fielded the ball but his throw to first base landed down the right field line, scoring two runs and allowing Rodriguez to advance to third base.
Rodriguez scored three pitches later on a pass ball to tie the score.
"We got into a situation where we were able to play some small ball," Archer said. "We came back, and Trey did a great job getting the bunt down."
The Bearcats started senior Noah Carpenter on the mound. The right-hander ran into trouble in the first inning when he allowed three hits and one walk. Only one run scored, though, as Carpenter induced a ground-ball double play to end the inning.
The Storm added two runs off Carpenter in the fourth. After an error and a single, the Storm tried a safety squeeze.
It created confusion for the Bearcats. Carpenter fielded the bunt attempt and threw to first base to try to get the out. The only problem was no one was covering the base, causing the ball to roll into right field, allowing two runs to score.
Carpenter allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks while striking out five batters in five innings.
"Like he’s done in the past, he got back in the game there and just did what he does, and that’s throw strikes," Archer said.
Up next, the Bearcats will face Grand Island in a must-win game. The Bearcats have won the three meetings between the two teams this season.
Grand Island nearly beat Millard South in the first round of the state tournament Saturday, but allowed a two-run walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning to lose 2-1.
The Islanders are without Cole Evans, a Creighton commit, who broke his right index finger in a district final victory over Creighton Prep on May 4. The senior shortstop was leading the Islanders with a .556 batting average this season.
"Grand Island should have probably won the first game today, and we always have good games with Grand Island," Archer said. "Bottom line is we have to throw strikes and make the routine plays. We will try to scramble to get enough runs to win."