Bearcat football teammates college bound in different directions: Lofink commits to continue baseball career at WNCC, while Aratani to take gridiron talents to Iowa school
     2014-02-27      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Courtesy photo - Scottsbluff senior Bo Lofink signs a letter of intent to Lofink continue baseball career at WNCC next year. Observing the ceremony is proud mom Whitne Lofink.  
Andrew Aratani and Beau Lofink were anchors for the Scottsbluff High school football team’s interior lines the past two seasons and were two of just five returning players who helped lead the Bearcats to the Class B playoffs and a 6-4 record.

In their choices of continuing their athletic careers in college, however, one will remain in Scottsbluff and play in a different sport while the other will remain in football but head to Iowa.

Lofink’s talents, which also include playing for the Bearcat basketball team, have also extended into the summer and with the Westco Zephyrs American Legion baseball program.

On Jan. 29, Lofink – who has another Legion season of eligibility for this summer – signed his national letter of intent with the Western Nebraska Community College baseball program that will keep his athletic talents at Cleveland Field the following two springs.

On Feb. 5, Aratani made good on his verbal commitment to continue his football-playing career at Northwestern College by signing his letter of intent with the Iowa school on National Football Signing Day.

While Lofink said he considered football in formulating his college plans, he said, “Overall, baseball was my top sport that I was going to go play.

“I just thought that WNCC was the best place I could come right now,” Lofink said at his on-campus ceremony. “They gave the best opportunity to live my goal of what I have always been wanting to do.”

WNCC baseball coach Mike Jones said he is excited to have Lofink in the Cougars’ fall camp next fall in preparation for the 2015 season.

“We basically just signed an excellent utility player, with his teamwork and the leadership that he brings on the field,” Jones said. “We’re anxious to get him out on the field and just bounce him around.”

What Lofink did for the Zephyrs last summer was help lead the Westco team into the Class A State Tournament and a 35-17 season record by playing solid infield defense and batting well while also offering the Zephyrs a solid effort from the pitcher’s mound.

Lofink had a batting average of .321 with a .384 slugging percentage and .405 on-base percentage in 2013. He had 36 hits, including five doubles and a triple, with 25 runs batted in and 26 runs scored.

In playing primarily at shortstop, Lofink had a fielding percentage of .812 with 25 putouts and 31 assists.

As a pitcher, Lofink compiled a 7-2 record with an earned-run average of 3.57 in 64 2/3 innings with 83 strikeouts, 69 hits, 47 walks and 45 runs allowed with 33 earned.

“Beau has been a solid contributor for us the last three seasons, and we are expecting big things from him this summer,” Zephyrs coach Mark Moran said of Lofink’s play with the Zephyrs and the Express Junior Legion team.

Lofink was second on the team in wins and innings pitched, behind standout Eric Moreno – whom will return to play for the Zephyrs in the summer after his freshman season at Trinidad State College in Colorado.

“Eric will be coming back and the Geary kid (Caleb) is coming over from Gering, so that will help us with our arms,” Lofink said. “Other than that, we return pretty much everybody from last year’s team. I’m planning on us being successful this summer.”

While playing football for Scottsbluff last fall, Lofink also spent his weekends playing for the Cheyenne-based WYCO Baseball Academy’s traveling team.

“It gave more time on the field just to get ready for what I’m going to be doing later on,” Lofink said. “It was a good experience for me to get to playing older kids and playing other junior college teams around the area.

“It was all weekend stuff, just whenever I could after football games, I would go and make as many as I possibly could.

Lofink had a pretty successful senior football season for the Bearcats, who made the Class B playoffs for the fourth straight year and finished as the District B-8 runner-up.

Lofink earned District B-8 Defensive Most Valuable Player and first-team linebacker awards, along with second-team center honors.

In earning his defensive honors, Lofink had 70 total tackles, including a team-high 39 solo efforts. Lofink also had one tackle for lost yardage of 5 yards and a fumble recovery that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown.

Lofink also is a member of the Bearcat boys’ basketball team and was on the varsity teams that won the Class B state championship in 2012 and runner-up in 2013. He had been sidelined with a foot injury this season until just two weeks ago.

“It’s just going to be an ongoing process,” Assuming I will be cleared Feb. 10, so hopefully really soon.”

From playing athletics at many age levels, Lofink said learning to become a leader has been a big attribute in his being successful as a player.

“That is what I have been brought up around is leading other kids to help them to be successful,” Lofink said. “Which they feed off me, then I can feed off them too.”

Said Moran, who also coached Lofink as an assistant on the Bearcat football staff, “WNCC will give Beau a great opportunity to improve on all phases of his game.”

Jones said Lofink’s strength for WNCC will be in the infield, though he could prove versatile with his wide range of experience.

“We’re going to continue to develop him as an overall baseball player, but more of a position player than a pitcher I think.”

Lofink said he has hopes of continuing to play baseball collegiately following his time at WNCC, but he also has other plans in case he decides to take another direction.

Lofink said he might choose to attend the University of Wyoming, where he would major in agriculture business or coaching.

“I’m just going to see where baseball takes me after junior college,” he said. “I would like to play baseball at another college, but I just have to see what my opportunities are after junior college.”

Aratani has experienced a pretty good early February. On Feb. 11, six days after he signed with Northwestern College, Aratani was selected to play in the 57th annual Nebraska Shrine Bowl, which is June 7 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

And this weekend, Aratani will complete his wrestling career for Scottsbluff in the second Class B State Dual Championships in Kearney. He takes a 46-6 season record into his final wrestling event.

Aratani, who was the 285-pound district champion, finished second Saturday in the Class B State Wrestling Championships in Omaha, placing for the third straight year after a fifth-place finish last year and taking sixth as a sophomore, all at the 285 class.

Northwestern is a member of the Great Plains Athletic Conference, which belongs to the NAIA and includes several Nebraska private colleges and universities.

The Red Raiders will have Aratani as part of their sixth season under coach Kent Achterhoff, who has led NWC into the NAIA playoffs each of the past two seasons and to a 41-13 record under his leadership. Northwestern was 8-3 in 2013, 7-2 in conference play, after the Red Raiders were 9-3 in 2012 and 9-2 in 2011.

“I just felt really comfortable with the campus and the coaches there,” Aratani said. They have good ideas with the players and they’re really team-oriented.

“They’re a Christian college, they do a lot of activities with their students and they have 1,200 kids, so it’s not going to be hard to adjust to coming from Scottsbluff. It kind of feels like home away from home.”

The Class B State Tournament this weekend in Omaha, however, will be Aratani’s swansong to wrestling, although Northwestern has a renowned wrestling program.

“I kind of wanted to stay away from wrestling.”I feel like we’re going to end the season well and I hope to see myself with the state title.”

An All-District B-8 defensive lineman as a senior, Aratani had a team-leading 71 tackles (39 solo) with one quarterback sack and two tackles for 9 lost yards.

“If you talk to any college guy, the place where they struggle to get guys is line,” Scottsbluff football coach Joe Benson said. “There are a lot of skill kids in the world but there aren’t a lot of line kids. To find a guy who can really excel on the line is a gem for any class, and I am sure Northwestern of Iowa is really excited to get him.”

Aratani said his biggest memory from the Bearcat gridiron came as a junior, with a 20-yard Interception he returned for a touchdown in Scottsbluff’s 35-6 win over Sidney – a victory that clinched the Bearcats’ 9-0- regular season and third straight district title.

“They gave me great tools to go on to the next level. I feel like they gave me a great work ethic,” Aratani said of his Scottsbluff coaches.

Benson spoke highly of Aratani’s work ethic and said he is a great student-athlete package who leads by example in athletics and the classroom.

“He’s a kid who led by an example, Benson said. “I don’t think he was ever a very vocal kid, but I think it means more when a guy lives it and that’s what he did. The other kids saw that and they just followed suit.”

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