The North Platte First Nationals celebrated "senior night" with a pair of comeback wins on Friday.
With a roller coaster of lead changes at Bill Wood Field, it was North Platte (12-21) that ended up sweeping Laramie with a pair of walk-offs.
Whether it was a Tyler Ferguson run in the seniors 5-4 first win, or Sam Malsbury stealing home plate in the 9-8 win that followed, the First Nationals delivered in the clutch both games with two outs.
"It was very exciting," seniors head coach Ty Brockmoller said. "We just battled the whole time. We either got up early or lost the lead, but we always kept grinding and delivered the knockout punches."
The hitting woes that lost North Platte their penultimate home game against Hastings earlier in the week disappeared on Friday, and were replaced with 13 hits and nine RBIs combined for 14 runs against the Laramie (Wyoming) Rangers.
"We got really good approaches at the plate and kept being aggressive," Brockmoller said. "They made sure to get their pitch and keep grinding."
Both games carried different narratives that eventually arrived with a similar ending, though.
North Platte found themselves crawling out of a deficit for most of the first game, which ended with Ferguson both on the mound and running towards home plate to save the game.
Eli Cox, who gave up four runs on five hits through six innings, got the start for North Platte in the first game, and he quickly surrendered a 1-0 lead after walking consecutive batters to drive in Laramie’s first run before retiring the order.
The First Nationals answered with a Gus Kreber RBI single to tie the game heading into the second inning. Then, Braeden Stiffler earned a double and stole third base in the second, positioning the seniors with the game-leading run, but North Platte would not convert.
Instead, Laramie broke the tie in the top of the third, scoring two runs on two hits and a North Platte error.
Reston Morehouse, who pitched five innings for Laramie and surrendered just one run on four hits and eight strikeouts, loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth on a hit and two walks, but North Platte, again, came away empty.
Laramie extended their lead to 4-1 in the top of the sixth on a North Platte error, but the First Nationals rallied in the bottom of the sixth and seventh to erase that deficit.
The seniors snapped their drought in the bottom of the sixth, scoring two runs on two RBIs, three hits and a Laramie error to tie the game at four apiece.
Carter Johnson, Dolan Branch and Stiffler all scored runs in the sixth inning. Ferguson scored the winning run in the seventh for North Platte — coming after an error on a throw that sailed over the Laramie third basemen.
The second game opened with North Platte taking a 4-0 lead through the first two innings on five hits.
This time, it was Laramie that played from behind.
The Rangers capitalized on five North Platte errors to swing momentum midway through the game.
It began in the top of the third on an infield error by North Platte, allowing Laramie to trim the lead down to 4-2. The Rangers added another run on a wild pitch by North Platte in the fourth, inching within a run of the First Nationals.
Laramie snagged the 6-4 lead with three more runs to end the inning.
The game took another turn once Laramie summoned lefty Derek Squires from the bullpen to relieve Tyler Oppie, who had given up five runs on five hits through the first three innings.
Squires loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth, allowing North Platte to position themselves with a chance to take the lead back.
But, the First Nationals only converted on one run, cutting the lead down to 6-5.
A fielding error allowed Laramie to add another run, then another run in the top of the sixth gave them an 8-5 lead.
Gus Kreber came through for North Platte with an RBI, which allowed Ferguson to scamper home and trim the Rangers lead to 8-7 heading into the seventh.
Malsbury took over in the bottom of the seventh with two outs already on the board for North Platte, hitting an RBI double to tie the game for North Platte.
He later stole third and home plate for the 9-8 walk-off win.
"I think these were two evenly matched teams and it showed," Brockmoller said. "They got a couple of punches on us in the second game and took the lead away from us. Late in the game we had our guys ready to go, and they had their guys ready. If we played those guys 10 times, I think they’d get five and we’d get five. I’m just proud of our guys for being the ones to come out on top."
No. 4-seeded North Platte will open the district tournament at Bill Wood Field against No. 5 Lexington on July 19.