Zephyrs' rally from opening loss falls short
     2013-07-25      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Sheila Weber/for the Citizen - The Westco Zephyrs’ Leighton Freeze slides into third base last a bout with Kearney on July 22. The Zephyrs were defeated by Kearney 8-4.  
One of the nice consolations about finishing second in a Nebraska American Legion Class A Area Tournament is that even if a team loses in the championship round, its season is not over.

The Westco Zephyrs, who entered their Area 7 Tournament last weekend at Cleveland Field as the No. 1 seed, found themselves facing elimination after the No. 4 seed Hastings Five Points Bank and solid right-hander Mason Spilinek shut down the Zephyrs in a 5-1 victory.
Westco, however, rebounded from the loss, eliminated the North Platte First Nationals 9-1 on Saturday behind Eric Moreno’s solid pitching and much more successful and timely hitting.

The Zephyrs then took care of avenging their Friday loss to Hastings and eliminated Five Points Bank 15-7 on Sunday to set up a rematch of last year’s Area 7 final against Kearney Post 52 Runza.
A seesaw battle incurred, but Kearney Runza took command in the seventh with a five-run rally en route to taking an 8-4 win and the Area 7 championship for the second straight year.

With their loss to Kearney Runza in Monday’s championship game, the Zephyrs (35-15) will play in the National Division State Tournament at Millard West High School.

Westco will play the Area 2 winner in Saturday’s first round at 3 p.m. Mountain Time. The Area 2 championship Tuesday night pitted No. 1 seed Creighton Prep-PI Midwest against No. 2 seed Bellevue West-DJ’s Dugout.

The Area 2 runner-up plays Kearney Runza in the American Division State Tournament in Lincoln.

“If our opponent is Creighton Prep, that’s about as tough as it gets,” Westco coach Mark Moran said Tuesday. “Then again, we’re excited for the opportunity to see where we stack up against the best in the state.

“They finished third in the nation last year, so we’re just going to have to pitch very well and play good defense, and when we get the chance to score offensively, we’ve got to make the most of it because we won’t get many chances.”

Westco’s second game will be Sunday against host Millard West or Area 5 runner-up Lincoln Southwest Pinnacle Bank. The first-round winners will play at 7 p.m. MDT, the losers in elimination action at noon.

“I think that’s the goal for everybody is to find a way to advance to the state tournament the next week,” Moran said. “Losing a first-round game didn’t make it real easy for us, but our guys did a good job of bouncing back beating North Platte and then beating Hastings to get ourselves qualified for the state tournament.”

Zephyrs get opening surprise from Hastings

Since Westco had played only North Platte among the other three area tournament teams, the Zephyrs were left with some unknowns against Hastings and Kearney.

And Hastings, which finished the season 17-28-1 after going 1-2 in the area tourney, was raring to go against top-seeded Westco.
Five Points Bank put up three runs in the top of the third off Westco right-hander Beau Lofink and held the Zephyrs at bay until Hastings scored two insurance runs in the ninth inning.

Hastings took its 3-0 lead, starting off with an off-the-wall RBI double by Matthew Karloff that scored Will Reimer, who had a one-out single. A dropped third strike to Alex Panganiban scored Xander Schmidt from third, and an RBI single by Jamison Cockrell brought home Karloff.

Westco gained its only run when Ty Dunkel drew a bases-loaded walk that plated Jake Schmid, who dropped a one-out single into short center field. But the Zephyrs left the bases loaded in the seventh and stranded 12 base runners for the game.
Hastings then built its lead to 5-1 with two runs in the ninth, thanks to a Westco error and a wild pitch.

“The three-run inning by them put a lot of pressure on us throughout the game,” Moran said. “We were kind of our own worst enemies in the eighth and ninth.

“In the eighth, we messed up a good chance to maybe even tie the game,” getting three outs after Ty Wilson drew a leadoff walk and Austin Murphy was hit by a pitch. “And then in the ninth we gave them a couple insurance runs which put even more pressure on us. That’s kind of the way it goes.”

Jonah Schulz collected three hits, with singles in the second, fifth, and eighth innings.

Spilinek pitched eight innings and allowed one earned run, in the seventh inning, on six hits.

“That kid was good. He had three pitches and he wasn’t going to walk us hardly at all,” Moran said of Spilinek. “They outplayed us, that’s all that happened.“

Zephyrs eliminate North Platte with timely hits

Westco returned to Cleveland Field on Saturday, ready to make sure it was going to survive the elimination game against North Platte — against which the Zephyrs were 3-1 during the regular season.

Fire-balling right-hander Eric Moreno was given the pitching assignment and he answered the call dutifully. Moreno struck out eight First Nationals, allowing just one earned run in the seventh inning while scattering five hits and three walks over eight innings.
Moreno’s first offensive support came in the fourth inning, when Jackson Hinze drove a bases-loaded double over left fielder Darian Allberry, giving the Zephyrs a 3-0 lead.

“We had lots of momentum there,” said Moran, whose team went on to score in four straight innings. “The three-run double opens the game up and takes the pressure off us.

“Eric, with a three-run lead, is like a 10-run lead with anybody else. He pitched very well, kept them off balance, and they only got a few good swings all day.”

Hinze finished the day 2-for-3 and was hit by a pitch, he added an RBI single in the seventh to his three-run double.

A double by Murphy and a perfect bunt single by Wilson set up two runs scored during Schmid’s at-bat. Murphy scored on a wild pitch, and Wilson came home on Schmid’s ground-out.

After North Platte scored in the seventh, Westco added three more runs in the bottom of the inning. Dunkel led off with a single and Murphy drew a walk before both scored on Wilson’s off-the-wall triple to right-center field. Wilson then scored on Hinze’s two-out single.

Westco avenges first-round loss, sends Hastings home

On Sunday, the Zephyrs left no doubt this time against Hastings Five Points Bank.

Westco posted 12 runs in the top of the third inning and came close to ending the nine-inning game on the seven-inning run rule, but the Zephyrs still claimed the championship game berth and subsequent trip to state with their 15-7 dominant performance.
Leighton Freeze got the pitching call for Westco and allowed five runs in six innings, but the 12-run lead from the third gave Freeze plenty of cushion.

Benson had two extra-base hits for the Zephyrs, with doubles in the third and seventh innings. He also singled in the fourth inning and scored four runs with four RBI.

Murphy was 3-for-6 with three RBI and one run scored, while Moreno was 2-for-4 with two walks, three RBI and two runs scored. Wilson added a 2-for-4 performances with one walk, one run and one RBI.

The Zephyrs took a 14-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh with the possibility of ending the game early. But Hastings answered with four runs to keep the game going, although its scoring was finished afterward and Westco added one more run for good measure in the top of the ninth.

Kearney claims title after big rally

In a long game on a hot late Monday afternoon, Kearney Runza — which had Sunday off after whipping Hastings 18-2 on Saturday night — decided it was not in the mood to stay around and have to play a second championship game.

Kearney Runza took a 2-0 lead after the first inning, only to have the Zephyrs tie the score in the top of the second and take a 3-2 lead in the third on Moreno’s run-scoring single to plate Benson.
Westco added another run in the sixth before Kearney went up for good in the seventh, scoring five runs on two singles and a hit-by-pitch off Busskohl.

“We did a good job throughout the tournament with our pitching, so we still had Busskohl and Benson left,” Moran said.

“I probably left Dylon in there one hitter too long (after an error by Benson in center field, which gave Kearney a 7-4 lead), and Ty struggled a little with his control when he came in, but overall we had a very good tournament.”

Freeze went 3-for-4, drove in one and scored two runs. He singled in the second, fourth, and sixth innings. Moreno was 2-for-4 with a walk and his third-inning RBI.

Kearney Runza was sparked by Anthony Pacheco and Thomas Connely, who teamed up for four hits and four RBI. Jamieson Oertle got the win in relief after pitching 3 2/3 innings and allowing no runs.

“Kearney is a very talented team,” Moran said. “The fact that we made it into the seventh inning shows what a good job our defense did to hold them to just a couple runs,” Moran said. “But they have a pretty good lineup, it’s hard to contain those guys and we just kind of ran out of gas there at the end.”

Then again, a fresh beginning awaits the Zephyrs come Saturday.

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