If there was ever going to be a good test for this young North Platte FNBO Nationals baseball team, the Mike Peterson Tournament this weekend was it.
The Nationals (9-3) played four games in three days of the tournament. While they started out strong with two wins over Lincoln Northeast and Lincoln Southwest, they fell behind with two mercy-rule losses to Omaha Skutt and Lincoln Pius X.
“We had a pretty good first two games,” North Platte coach Andy Butler said. “We didn’t play our best ball, but we did our best to come back and fight and put up two ‘W’s.’”
North Platte hopes to end a two-game skid Tuesday when it plays one of its biggest rivals, Kearney, in a home doubleheader. The first game starts at 5 p.m. and the second game will follow at around 7:30 p.m.
“I know the juniors had a lot of success with them last year, but at the seniors level, Kearney has been kind of dominant,” Butler said. “That’s always one we have circled because they’re kind of the standard for baseball in the west right now. So we’re always trying to catch up to them and give them our best because we know we’ll get it from them.”
There are a few things North Platte will want to work on before Kearney rolls into town. Consistency from its pitchers figures to be a key focus.
Will Coe had a solid outing against Lincoln Northeast, going six innings and letting up four runs off two hits and four walks. Tate Janas limited Lincoln Southwest to just four hits and three runs, and Trey Barker and Tyler Tobey kept the opposing team off the board.
In the second game on Saturday against Omaha Skutt, all four pitchers North Platte brought in couldn’t keep runners from getting on base. Against Lincoln Pius X, the Nationals allowed 17 hits.
“We have a very young team that is still getting used to the senior level of things,” Butler said. “One of the big differences between the junior level and the senior level is that when you get those opportunities, you got to make them pay because they’re not always going to be there.”
Not all was bad this tournament, however. There were many bright spots the team could look to as something to build off.
In three of the four games, North Platte put at least 12 runners on base. In two of those games (Lincoln Northeast and Lincoln Southwest), the Nationals found ways to score some of those runners.
There’s also Jaylan Ruffin’s hitting. North Platte’s leadoff hitter collected seven hits in the tournament, including going a perfect 4-for-4 on Sunday. He scored three runs and had two RBIs during the weekend.
“As a leadoff batter, he’s kind of entrusted to get us started and get us going,” Butler said. “That’s what he’s done. He’s constantly on base. He’s a smart baserunner, and so we can always rely on him at the top of the lineup to get us started.”