It took two outs, a wild pitch and an error by Hastings that sailed past the first baseman in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the First Nationals-Juniors snagged the win on Monday.
The Juniors dug themselves out of a two-run deficit entering the bottom of the seventh at Bill Wood Field, mustering a hit, a walk and two stolen bases off a lethal infield error to clinch a 5-4 walk-off victory — sweeping the season series over Hastings and winning the regular season district crown with an unblemished record.
“It was a hard fought game, but the biggest thing was that we didn’t give up,” juniors head coach Jace Barker said. “We easily could’ve gone into that final inning and laid over, but we didn’t. We decided to fight and that’s hats off to the players for not giving up.”
North Platte (30-5) struggled early in the game, opening up the first inning by giving up two hits that propelled a 2-0 lead by Hastings.
The First Nationals broke their drought at the plate midway through the bottom of the second, collecting their first hit of the game on a Tyler Tobey double.
Hastings’ lead, however, increased to 3-0 in the top of the third, forcing Barker to bring Blake Barner out of the bullpen to shake things up for the First Nationals.
“We got kind of squeezed a little bit, walking more than I liked early,” Barker said. “Blake really came in and threw his butt off. He pitched three scoreless innings and gave up just one in the top of the seventh.”
Barker’s pitching held Hastings scoreless for the next three innings, while North Platte caught a groove at the plate and started connecting on hits.
The juniors drilled two singles in the bottom of the third to set up runners in scoring position.
Jaylan Ruffin, who led North Platte going 2-of-4 at the plate, drilled an RBI single to give the juniors their first run of the game before a wild pitch by Hastings trimmed it to 3-2.
Both teams hit a scoreless stretch that spanned the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. And even though North Platte tallied two hits in the span, they couldn’t convert.
Hastings broke the drought in the top of the seventh, drawing separation after a Beau Dreher RBI double to center field extended Hastings’ lead to 4-2.
But Hastings’ closer, Justin Musgrave, couldn’t close out North Platte in the final inning, giving up a Ruffin RBI single and a Trey Barker walk that quickly positioned the tying and winning runs in first and second base.
“He was a little more wild,” Barker said of Musgrave. “We were able to sit down, be patient and we got two or three big hits off of him and a walk. We had a little luck in the end there, but that’s the way it is sometimes.”
After striking out one batter and forcing a pop fly from another, an error by Hastings on a throw to first base after a Tate Janas grounder drove in both runs to win the game for North Platte.
The win clinched North Platte the district crown and positioned them for a chance to host the Cornhusker League championship at Bill Wood Field, a feat that hasn’t been welcomed back to North Platte in some time.
“We just won districts with the win here today,” Barker said. “We also might’ve won our division in the Cornhusker League as well. Hopefully the championship game will be here on Monday at Bill Wood. I don’t remember the last time we were in that position, so I really hope we have that chance to host and win.”
The seniors game, which remains 1-0 after an inning-and-a-half against Hastings, was postponed for Tuesday at 3 p.m. following bad weather conditions on Monday night.