Hickman-Norris celebrates first state Legion title
     2013-08-08      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Terry Gaston/Gering Citizen - Hickman-Norris celebrates first state Legion title last week at Oregon Trail Park. The team completed the double-elimination tournament with an undefeated record. 
Titans earn dog pile following Waverly forfeit; Mt. Michael, Seward receive runner-up awards

GERING – When the Hickman-Norris American Legion baseball team went to bed last Tuesday night, the Titans stood just one win from their “double-dip” goal of winning two state tournaments in the spring and summer.

In an unlikely twist of events, the Hickman Legion – composed of players from Class B state champion Norris High School of Firth in south Lancaster County – found itself having just to show up to Oregon Trail Park on Wednesday to receive its Legion Class B state tournament championship plaque and medals.

Following a surprise forfeit by Lancaster County rival Waverly after six players were suspended on vandalism and minor-in-possession charges from incidents in Scottsbluff late Tuesday night, Waverly forfeited its berth in the championship game late Wednesday afternoon.

Thus Hickman-Norris, which had won all four of its state tournament games, was declared the state champion. Elkhorn-Mt. Michael and Seward, the respective semifinal losers to Hickman-Norris and Waverly, were elevated to co-runners-up.

However, besides winning the tournament in customary fashion on the field, Hickman-Norris felt a void in getting to celebrate its title in modern-day style: the dog pile.
So, after some of the players’ fathers suggested they play a one-inning scrimmage against their Legion-playing sons, the tournament’s concluding event – and subsequent trash-talking between the teams – was on. After winning the unofficial one-inning game 2-0, the Titans got their dog pile.

“A couple of the parents came up with the idea, so the kids were ready for it,” fifth-year Hickman-Norris coach Will Raftery, who coaches the Norris junior varsity team in the spring. “I thought it was neat that at least they get to go out and finish on the field.
“They’ve talked about how they thought they didn’t do their dog pile right at the high school state tournament, so they wanted to make sure they did it right here. That’s what they wanted to do and they got it accomplished.”

Hickman-Norris pitcher Byron Hood also gained the chance to redeem himself for first-game struggles, although the Titans scored a 10-5 victory over Mt. Michael.
“I think the biggest thing for us was we threw strikes and played good defense like we did all year,” Raftery said in reviewing the Titans’ four-win tournament run.

“The biggest adversity certainly would be in the first game. Byron Hood didn’t have his A-game, but we battled through it. He’s our split No. 1, and then Peyton Kinney came back the next day and shut out Waverly (7-0).

“That Waverly game was pretty much a 2-0 ball game and they made a couple mistakes and gave us some runs. Certainly the Seward game, a 2-1 ball game that we win in the bottom of the seventh on a base-clearing triple, was a dogfight. We left a lot of base runners on, but this team is so resilient.”

Hickman-Norris then earned its championship game berth with a 9-4 semifinal victory over Mt. Michael after rallying from a 4-2 deficit.
“They know how to win baseball games,” Raftery said. When they get down and they get in a tight game and it just seems like we always come out on top.

“That’s a credit to our senior leadership. I doubt Norris is going to see a team like this in some time. We have four (NCAA) Division I athletes playing on a Class B team, and I’d love to take credit and say that I’m a great coach, but we just have that type of talent where it’s tough to beat us.”

Norris won the Class B state high school championship in May after downing Lincoln Pius X 3-2, finishing with a 25-2 record. With the forfeit, Hickman-Norris finished the Legion season at 32-11.
“It’s a credit to the kids,” Raftery said. “They’ve battled all year and we’ve played predominantly a Class A schedule, so day in and day out face tough, top competition, been in tight ball games, so we’ve been there and done it.

“Our whole goal, from Feb. 27 when we started the high school year, was to – we kept calling it double-dipping – go win the high school championship and then go win the Legion championship, and that was exactly what they got accomplished.”

Waverly incidents result in forfeit

Three Waverly players were arrested on vandalism and minor-in-possession charges, and three others were cited for MIP, thus the team did not have enough players remaining to field a team to play for the state title Wednesday afternoon.

According to a report from the Scottsbluff Police Department, officers were called to the 3500 block of Avenue D late Tuesday night when a neighbor called police after witnessing two boys strike her mailbox with a baseball bat.

Immediately following, the two boys fled on foot, the report stated. They were last seen in the area of the Hampton Inn.
Investigators learned some of the state baseball tournament teams were staying at the motel. After identifying the two players who vandalized the mailbox, investigators found evidence of the crime. They also contacted several team members who had consumed alcohol, resulting in the three arrests and three citations.

The investigation is ongoing with additional reports of vandalized mailboxes from July 28.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star's Web site, in a story posted Wednesday, July 31, Waverly coach Michael Goodrich offered to resign his coaching position Wednesday to Waverly school officials in light of the incident in Scottsbluff.

Decisions on whether Goodrich's resignations from both his Waverly and Legion positions have yet to be made.
Mike Hutchison, director for the Class B State Tournament, said
Goodrich called him on Wednesday morning at about 2:30, telling him of the incident and the resulting shortage of Waverly players available to play the championship game against county rival Hickman-Norris in the state championship game Wednesday afternoon.

“It did test the state’s judgment of the rules and figuring them out,” Hutchison said of the Nebraska American Legion Baseball’s guidelines on how to award the tournament title and runner-up position while dealing with the resulting forfeit by Waverly.
“It’s really sad because, first off, not only did it take away from the kids on the Waverly team that didn't do anything wrong, it took away from these (Hickman-Norris) kids being able to have a chance to win a championship game and have the emotions that go along with it,” Hutchison said.

Hickman-Norris coach Will Raftery said, when called of the incident, he was initially informed that the Titans would have to play Mt. Michael. Raftery said if that was the way his team would have had to win the championship, they would have concurred with that arrangement.

“It’s too bad for Waverly that that’s the way their year ended,” Raftery said. “One of their kids just got a little loose and didn’t want to play today.

“And I can’t speak for them, but that kind of takes away from our kids. They deserve to go out to win the title the right way, but they got it accomplished and we were still undefeated in this tournament.”

Hutchison said the NALB rules also stated that, as a result of Waverly’s forfeiture, the two teams eliminated from Tuesday’s semifinals –Mt. Michael and Seward – would thus be elevated to the title of co-runners-up.

Mt. Michael coach Brent Suing, whose team stayed in Torrington during the tournament, said he was called at about 4:30 a.m. and was informed of the incident, and that his team was ready to play Hickman-Norris again if that was the case.

Instead, the Knights returned to Oregon Trail Park early Wednesday afternoon and gladly accepted their runner-up plaque and player medals. Seward’s plaque and medals were to be shipped, since most of the Bluejays’ players had already headed home after their 8-2 Tuesday night loss to Waverly.

“Our boys put ourselves into that position. If it wasn’t going to be us, it was going somebody else,” Mt. Michael coach Brent Suing said. “I know Brent (Anderson, the coach) very well from Seward and I’m sure he would say the same thing. We were happy to put ourselves in the situation to be the next runner-up.”

Jerry Purvis contributed to this report.



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