Five teams entered into the gauntlet of the Class A District 5 tournament, but after hours of baseball on Friday and Saturday, only the Millard West Wildcats remained — clinching their spot in the State tournament.
The scoring started early in Friday’s play-in game between #4 Omaha Central and #5 Bryan. The Eagles jumped out to an early 6-0 lead after the first inning, and added to their lead in the second with six more runs. They scored one more in the fourth and only allowed the Bears to score two, sending the game into the fifth, 13-2. To avoid the run-rule, Bryan would need to score two runs to cut the lead to nine. They got one, but that was all, putting an end to the Bears’ disappointing 0-24 season.
Central rode the momentum from this win into their semifinal matchup with #1 Millard West, jumping on junior Sam Novotny early, to go up 1-0 after the first. That was all the offense they got, however, as Novotny shut them down for the remaining six innings. Throughout his dominant performance, Novotny threw 70% strikes, resulting in 12 strikeouts and only 5 hits.
The Wildcats got on the scoreboard in the third, after taking advantage of some Eagle errors. Senior Kyan Lodice reached on an error by senior third-baseman Anthony Lind. An errant pickoff attempt by sophomore Max Caughlin allowed Lodice to get all the way to third, putting him in position to score on a sacrifice fly from junior Maddux Fleck. They added to their score in the fifth when an infield single by junior Devin Jones brought in junior Avery Moore to give the Wildcats the lead. The Cats added some insurance in the bottom of the fifth in the form of a sacrifice fly from senior Cade Owens which scored Fleck from third.
These three runs proved to be all the Wildcats needed opposite of Novotny’s lights-out performance on the mound. When senior Sam Nodes struck out to end the Eagles half of the seventh, the Wildcats advanced to the final with a 3-1 victory.
“I really focused on hitting my spots in my bullpens leading up to this game,” Novotny said. “I threw a lot of fastballs and threw my off-speed late in the count, keeping my off speed low was a priority.”
The other semifinal matchup between #2 Papillion-LaVista and #3 Omaha Burke came down to the wire. A strong start from the Bulldogs put them up 11-2 in the fifth inning, eliminating any hope that Papio had of an easy win. The Monarchs didn’t quit, however, as they put up four runs in the bottom of the fifth, cutting the lead to five. They clawed a little closer in the sixth with three more runs, but the Bulldogs pulled further ahead in the top of the seventh, leaving the Monarchs just one inning to overcome a 12-9 deficit. At first, it looked like the Monarchs had a chance, as they loaded the bases with two outs, but a fielder’s choice secured the third out for the Bulldogs, and Papio’s season ended on a sour note as Burke advanced to the final against Millard West.
With the threat of rain looming, and a ticket to the State Tournament on the line, the Cats and Dawgs took the field for what was shaping up to be an epic championship game. The Wildcat’s ace, junior Jaxson Cahoy dominated from the start of the game, throwing four scoreless, no-hit innings, and picking up eight strikeouts along the way. The Wildcats got on the board early, scoring one in the first, on an RBI single from junior Drew Borner. They added two in the fifth to put the Cats up 3-0.
Cahoy ran into some trouble in the fifth after giving up a pair of singles to lead off the inning. A hit batter and two singles later, the Bulldogs were on the board. Coach Steven Frey made the decision to keep Cahoy on a tight leash, and pull him with two outs in the fifth, replacing him with senior Kael Dumont. Out of the bullpen, Dumont dominated; he easily got out of Cahoy’s jam, ending Burke’s scoring threats with the bases loaded.
The Wildcats blew the game wide open in the bottom of the fifth, as they erupted for a six-run inning with the benefit of RBIs from Borner, Owens, Moore, Hawkins and Fleck.
Dumont shoved in the last two innings, striking out three and not allowing any hits. When he struck out junior Jason Irwin for the last out, the Wildcats rejoiced, celebrating not only their 9-1 victory, but their ticket to state.
“I think the entire team is very excited to play in another state tournament,” Lodice said. “I believe we have the pitching depth and talent as an overall team to make a run.”
The state tournament will begin on Saturday, May 15, in Lincoln. The tournament will feature the Wildcats, the five other district champions and a pair of wild card teams in an eight-team showdown for the title.