Gering Legion completes state championship dream season
     2012-08-02      By Terry Gaston   
Gering Platte Valley Companies Senior American Legion Post 36 baseball team 
36ers avenge loss to Roncalli with 5-1 victory

Championships of all kinds in sports bring forth many high-level descriptions: to name a few, amazing, exhilarating, awesome and in hyperbolic fashion, miraculous.

For the Gering Platte Valley Companies Senior American Legion Post 36 baseball team, its 5-1, Class B state championship-clinching victory Wednesday night over Omaha Roncalli in Wahoo -- and its five-game run to the post's first state title since 1982 -- can be summarized in one solid term.

Complete.

After seeing its record fall to 14-16 on the season on June 23, Gering (30-20) finished its run to the state title with Zach Smith's second complete-game pitching effort, a five-hit, eight-strikeout masterpiece that helped avenge the Senior 36ers' only tournament loss, a 2-1 setback to Roncalli on Tuesday night.

Smith (8-2) aided his own cause by going 2-for-4 at the plate and driving home four runs, including three in the top of the seventh inning on a bases-loaded double while Gering clenched to a 2-1 lead.

But it was a five-tool, complete team performance -- with excellent pitching, hitting and defense -- that won this championship for the only state tournament team west of Broken Bow.

All four Gering starting pitchers combined to throw complete games in all five state contests, and catcher Josh Burgener's autonomy in calling pitches was more than evident in orchestrating Smith's state-clinching victory Wednesday night.

"We were a little frustrated that we didn't win that game," Burgener said of the teams' Tuesday night meeting. "But we know that Zach gave us a great shot to win.

"We had the same umpire behind the plate that we did against Gretna and we knew he was giving us the outside corner for strikes. Once we got through the first four (Roncalli) batters, we knew they were late on Zach's fastball and so we stayed with it and it really worked for us tonight."

The Griffons (18-16), despite handing Gering PVC its first loss of the eight-team tournament, still had to play their way back into the title game and did so with a 5-2 victory earlier Wednesday over Aurora.

But PVC Post 36 had a surprising and familiar face awaiting Gering on the mound in the winner-take-all finale: Roncalli pitcher Tyler Alitz, the same hurler who tallied 110 pitches in holding the 36ers to just three hits Tuesday night.

Tournament rules allow a pitcher to throw a maximum of 12 innings during a three-day period. Alitz pitched his remaining limit of five innings and allowed Gering just five hits with three walks and two strikeouts while adding 74 pitches to his total over a 25-hour period.

Jones was not as concerned with Alitz's return performance as he was the risk of the teen's long-term health.

"I don't understand that logic at all," Jones said. "He threw over 100 pitches Tuesday night, and the kid's arm has got to be hurting. He's got some talent and he did a great job, but there is a limit for a reason and bringing him back, I don't think, without any rest was a good one.

"But he was their ace, and we knew we had to keep fighting and do the best we could."

Unlike Tuesday night, Gering struck first offensively against Roncalli, and right away. Leadoff hitter Nate Marquez -- whose dad, Tim, played on Gering's 1982 state championship team -- popped Alitz's 1-and-1 pitch deep to shortstop Trevor Szegda for a single.

Marquez then stole second base with his team-leading 39th theft of the season, and two outs later Smith drilled a hard single off the mound and past first baseman Tanner Kuntz to plate Marquez.

The 36ers had to overcome four errors in the contest, but they only allowed one unearned run to cross.

In the bottom of the Griffons' second inning, Kuntz led off by reaching second on an error by Gering left fielder Walker Britsch. Two outs later, Tyler Crawford chopped a single past Smith and diving shortstop Danny O'Boyle into left field to drive home Kuntz and knot the score at 1-each.

Burgener led off the PVC Post 36 fourth inning with a single to and advanced to third on Colin Chatterton's single. Reggie Reyes grounded into a double play, but Burgener scurried home in putting Gering back on top, 2-1.

Smith then allowed just one Roncalli base runner to reach second base and picked off Jake Tyrakoski at first after he gained bas on an O'Boyle error that led off the bottom of the sixth. J--- Holzapfel was left stranded after a two-out double following Smith's seventh strikeout.

Szegda relieved Alitz to start the sixth and retired the 36ers in order, but an error on Alitz allowed Seth Holthus to gain first base to open Gering's game- and championship-sealing rally in the seventh frame.

Britsch followed with a single to right and Grant Rimington drew a one-out walk to load the bases. O'Boyle hit a fly ball to left, but Jones said it was not deep enough for Holthus to attempt a tag -- especially with Smith coming to bat next.

On Szegda's 1-and-2 pitch, Smith drove a seemingly catchable fly ball to right, but the ball pulled upward and out of Tyrakoski's reach into the right-field corner. Holthus, Britsch and Rimington scored ahead of a throw toward home, on which Smith advanced to third.

"I thought he was going to catch it, and I thought he caught it," Smith said on Hometown Family Radio. "But our guardian angel (he said in referring to Taylor Magdaleno, a former Legion player who was killed in an auto accident Saturday near Minatare) was out there and got it to move away from him."

Smith's eighth strikeout and two ground-outs later in the bottom of the seventh, and the PVC 36ers were state champions.

"I am really excited, especially for the guys," said Jones, who was the Senior 36ers' assistant on their past two state trips and head coach of the Juniors' state trip in 2009. "I am proud of our guys for stickng it through and believing they had the ability to do it. To go 14-16 then finish 16-4 is an amazing feat."

The championship game win completed a seven-game postseason stretch in which Gering outscored its opponents 55-9, and on only three occasions did a Post 36 opponent score as many as two runs.

The 36ers had a 21-4 scoring advantage in sweeping its three Area 7 Tournament games at Oregon Trail Park in Gering on July 20-24, and then they made a state run that totaled 34-5, including shutouts of 7-0 over Beatrice and 13-0 over Aurora after an opening 8-2 win over three-time defending state champion Gretna.

O'Boyle, who pitched a complete game in Gering's Area 7 clinching victory over Alliance on July 24 and also scored the state shutout over Aurora, said the 36ers' first goal of a third straight area championship was accomplished, "but we're not done yet."

Indeed, they weren't.

And in the end, the quest of winning a crown for a team led by a core group of seven players making their fourth consecutive state tournament appearance -- first as Juniors and then the past three as Seniors -- was indeed complete: State champions.


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