Zephyrs need extra inning to down Gering Seniors
     2013-06-13      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Sheila Weber/for the Citizen - Zephyr’s Jackson Hinze slides into second as Legion teammates Nick Ferreyra and Nate Ferreyra work to control the ball. 
Moreno bests Geary in historic, classic pitching and defensive-dominated contest

Many words were used to precede Tuesday night’s first meeting of the Scottsbluff and Gering American Legion baseball teams since 1984: historic, long-awaited, overdue, among others.

Classic, however, was not among those words used to build up the game at Oregon Trail Park. That was, until the pitching and defensive-dominated shoot-out, scoreless after seven tense innings, came to an end in the eighth inning.

After what finished as a 2-0 win for the Scottsbluff-based Westco Zephyrs over the Gering Platte Valley Companies Post 36 Seniors — after the handshakes and hugs were traded and the fans of both teams applauded their sons and friends’ efforts — then classic became an appropriate term for the 112 minutes of action, witnessed in the renewal of another chapter of the North Platte River rivalry.
Another term, based on the Zephyrs’ four-game winning streak entering the game — in which Westco scored a staggering 64 runs — and Gering PVC’s skid of just one win in five games, that may have entered many thoughts entering the game may have been blowout.

“We played hard and we’re not intimidated by anybody,” Senior 36ers first-year coach Rick Kinnaman said. “But it was still a loss and we can get better.“

The only blowing out came off the pitcher’s mound, with Zephyrs right-hander Eric Moreno and Post 36 left-hander Caleb Geary, using different approaches to combine for 26 thrown strikeouts.

Geary, who had thrown 122 pitches in his seven shutout innings, headed to the mound for the top of the eighth but as a mere formality. Kinnaman followed a few paces behind Geary, called him back for the Post 36 fans to give the southpaw a well-deserved curtain call.

Geary held Westco batters — who entered the game batting a healthy .319 from the plate — to a paltry .130 average (3-for-23) through the first seven innings. While Geary walked four Zephyr batters, including Jackson Hinze three times, and hit three other batters, he finished with seven strikeouts.

“We don’t have overpowering pitching,” Kinnaman said. “We have a smart pitching staff and Caleb kept them off balance all night. But we’re going to have to make plays in the field, and we did that all night.”

But Moreno and his 19-strikeout, one-hit effort was a show-stopper, besides the Zephyrs’ best effort in holding off any Gering PVC threat offensively.

To put Moreno’s feat into perspective, the major-league record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game is 20, first set by Roger Clemens in 1986, which he tied in 1996, and then matched by Kerry Wood in 1998.

Eight major-league efforts of 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, including two by Randy Johnson in 1997, have been reached dating back to 1884. Six have come since the “live-ball” era began in 1920.
His striking out the side in the eighth inning gave Moreno three innings in which he fanned all three Gering batters he faced — with another three innings in which he struck out two with the other out on a fielding play — and he struck out the last seven hitters he faced.

“Eric dominated where they never got a guy to second base in the game, and he really limited their chances to score,” Westco coach Mark Moran said.
“Also, on the other hand, we had guys out there darn near every inning and we just never got the good at-bat, never came through with the big hit there until the eighth inning.”

Geary’s defense — in spite of his own third-inning throwing error to first baseman Austin Ferguson — turned in two double plays — one started on a bolting run by Ferguson in foul territory — and left two Westco base runners stranded on three other occasions and nine for the game.

Moran praised Geary’s effort in holding Westco in check on the bases through regulation.
“Their kid had a really had a good plan and he really executed that plan,” Moran said. “He did a nice job. For a guy who is not overpowering, he at times pitched in an overpowering way because he had such a good plan.”

Gering PVC right-hander Justin Brester came to the mound to face the Westco lineup in the eighth, and then things started going awry for the upstart Senior 36ers.

Brester hit Westco leadoff hitter Jake Schmid with his first pitch, and Schmid — after drawing his second hit-by-pitch of the game — advanced to second on Ty Wilson’s sacrifice bunt.
Then, when Beau Lofink drilled a two-ball pitch toward Gering PVC third baseman Taylor Winkler, the ball took a funny bounce near the infield grass-dirt and ricocheted over Winkler. Schmid advanced to third on the play.

While press box scorers debated whether to rule the play a single for Lofink or an error on Winkler — Lofink was given the single for his second hit of the night, the game’s lone multi-hitter — suddenly Schmid was walking home and thus scored the game’s first run after the seven-inning scoreless deadlock.

“I didn’t get a good look at it because I was stopping ‘Schmiddy,’ just because of how shallow the ball was,” Moran said of being in the third-base coach’s box.

“But the umpire said that when the ball bounced over Winkler’s head — then I don’t know if he got in the way or was in the way to start with of the runner’s progress toward third — then that is when he called obstruction.”

Kinnaman viewed the play from the Gering PVC third-base dugout.
“The ground ball took an awful hop an bounced over Taylor’s head, and Taylor just turned around like he would, because he has to become the cut-off man,” he said. “About that time the runner’s there, and in the umpire’s judgment, Taylor was in his way and obstructed way and entitled him to another base.”

While many fans were still scratching their heads over the call and subsequent scoring of Schmid, Zephyrs hitter Austin Murphy drew a two-strike wild pitch from Brester that advanced Lofink to second. Murphy then drilled a shot down the right-field line for a double to bring home Lofink and give Westco a 2-0 lead.

“It was a big break, but that did not decide the game,” Moran said of the obstruction call and Schmid’s awarding of home. “We got a wild pitch on the next hitter, so he would have scored him anyway, and then Murphy’s double down the line would have scored him anyway as well.”

Moreno returned to the mound in the bottom of the eighth and promptly struck out all three Post 36 batters, raising his game strikeout total to an amazing 19 K’s and completing a one-hit shutout with just one walk allowed.

Ferguson drew a two-out walk after seven Moreno pitches in the fourth inning, breaking up Moreno’s early perfect run.
Then Nate Ferrerya got a leadoff single in the sixth inning off Moreno. However, Ferrerya was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice play started by Walker Britsch — the Senior 36ers’ only other stranded base runner besides Ferguson.

The win lifted the Zephyrs to 13-7 heading into their Wednesday night rematch against the Alliance Spartans — who held Westco hitless on May 11 but lost the game 1-0 when Ty Benson scored the game’s only run on a second-inning wild pitch for the Zephyrs. Moreno struck out 10 in that one-hit victory.

“I hope that this was a confidence-building kind of game for us,” Moran said of Tuesday’s win. “We have to use some momentum here.”
Moran said the atmosphere with the near sellout crowd and the competitiveness of the game created the perfect environment in writing a new chapter in the Twin Cities Rivalry.

“It really did feel a Friday night football game with Gering or a district basketball game, a lot of people in the stands and a lot of noise up there,” Moran said.

“It was a great atmosphere to play in. Our guys were definitely tight, outside of Eric who just pitched like he does, our guys have to do a better job of overcoming that.”

Kinnaman said his team, which fell to 6-8 with the loss, will use the hard-fought game as a double-sided experience: to not be satisfied with playing well and still come up short in the game.
“We still have some things to address, and even though we played well and put on a good show for the crowd,” said Kinnaman, whose team travels east for weekend play in the three-day Crete Tournament that starts Friday.”You have to be careful because if you are satisfied with that, you’ll never reach the goals you set.”

The 36ers will return Tuesday’s visit from the Zephyrs by taking on Westco on June 22 at Cleveland Field in Scottsbluff.
Kinnaman said of the rematch: “It will be a different story. It could be 20-19 that game, who knows?”
Could be another classic in the making.


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