Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bluejay Baseball Wins First District Title Ever

Northeast Nodaway’s baseball team won its first district title game ever Wednesday night. Defying history and a strong Green City squad, Northeast took an early lead and held off several charges by the pesky Gopher squad to win 11-9 after three straight years of futility in districts. It was started three years ago by the very same Green City squad; Northeast had a banner regular season that year, running the table in their inaugural conference title season and drew the top seed in districts that year, only to be completely outplayed by Green City and fall 6-4.

Coach Vance Proffitt, who got his second shower in as many weeks, said the difference between the last three years and this year was a much higher level of focus. That was evident in the first inning, when Spencer Weir took a 3-2 pitch up and in to lead off and then went all the way from first to third on Chet Spire’s groundout. It turned out to be hardly necessary, since Andrew Freemyer’s home run that barely cleared the Eagleville fence put Northeast up 2-0. But it was the kind of alert baserunning that showed that this team was focused against a dangerous power hitting Green City squad and a hurler with the biggest breaking ball they had seen in Camden Williams.

Later in the inning, Rowdy West doubled as a fly ball dropped in between centerfielder Alex Barto and rightfielder Colby Carmack. Ethan Adwell walked and they went to second and third on a wild pitch. Brayden Welch laid down a perfect bunt and reached safely, only to have West thrown out at the plate as he didn’t get a big enough lead from third and was cut down after the throw to first. Proffitt argued the call to no avail, only to have a third run score anyway as Ethan Adwell came home on a  wild pitch to make it 3-0.

The heart of the Green City order was up, but Devin Fields’ screamer was right to Rowdy West at shortstop. Hunter Chase walked and stole second on a close play, but Spencer Weir settled down and struck out Camden Williams and got Ryan Peavler to fly out to Chet Spire by jamming him inside.
Williams tried to establish his huge breaking ball as he froze Chance Barber with one that started high, dove in the dirt, and was somehow called a strike by the umpire. He then froze Reed McIntyre, but Green City mistakenly thought the play was over and started throwing it around the horn. The ball had briefly hit the dirt and McIntyre made it to first before the Gophers could recover. Williams set up Spencer Weir with three high pitches and shut him down with another huge breaking pitch that started head high and broke down to the knees.

But then the dropped third strike came back to bite Green City; without it, they would have struck out the side and held Northeast scoreless. As it stood, Chet Spire kept the inning alive as Williams tried to freeze him with one of his big breaking balls on a 3-2 pitch but left it too high. Andrew Freemyer fought off an 0-2 breaking ball and hit it through the hole at short to score McIntyre and Rowdy West hit a screamer to left that took one bounce and cleared left field for a ground rule double to make it 5-0 after three.

NEN pitcher Spencer Weir sailed through the second, but got into trouble in the third after one out when he tried to throw a knuckle ball on Devin Fields, but he caught hold of it and it sliced away from Dylan Mildfeldt in center field for a single. That opened up the floodgates as Weir was tiring and had no more movement on his pitches. Hunter Chase and Camden Williams singled and then Ryan Peavler hit one to dead center so far out that Dylan Mildfeldt didn’t even try to go after it; that made it 5-4. A single from Alex Barto, a four pitch walk to Colby Carmack, and another single to Michael Hall tied it at 5-5; Carmack and Hall stole second and third with one out; seven straight Gophers had reached safely. But then Weir recovered and struck out Jeremy McCarty and Nathan Chase to get out of the inning with the game still tied.

Northeast continued to battle Williams and his huge breaking ball; Spencer Wier fought off a pitch up and in and knocked it in the hole between third and short to start the top of the fourth for Northeast. Chet Spire fought off another breaking ball and hit a grounder that took a crazy hop on Nathan Chase at short and went into short left as Spencer Weir made it from first to third. Andrew Freemyer’s pop fly barely stayed in the playing area; North Harrison has a long foul territory and third baseman Michael Hall made the catch just in front of the fence for the first out. Rowdy West then successfully got Williams out of his pitching rhythm; he called time just before he threw a pitch and found one much more to his liking and beat out an infield hit to short, scoring Weir. Ethan Adwell tried to bunt, but it it in the air and Williams caught it for the second out of the inning with Northeast up 6-5.

But then Brayden Welch came up to the plate. He has been clutch throughout his time at Northeast; two years ago, his single against West Nodaway ignited the rally that secured the Bluejays their second straight title; that year, his only hits of the year were against the Rockets. This year, his grand slam against Platte Valley jump started Northeast’s season after they had started off the season 0-3. Northeast swept the double header and Welch’s walkoff single all but clinched the conference title against West Nodaway after the Rockets had hit a 3-run shot off Andrew Freemyer to tie it up.
Monday night, Brayden Welch added to his laurels as he knocked one over the pine tree to the left of the scoreboard, 300 feet from home plate. That three run shot put Northeast up 9-5. Northeast would go through some more twists and turns in the game, but Brayden Welch’s shot put them back in control.

Green City tried all they could to wipe out the result of that play. They threw to third in a vain attempt to claim that Spencer Weir had not touched third while rounding the bases. They even headed to the dugout in an effort to sell the call, but to no avail. The home run stood.

Andrew Freemyer took the mound for the fourth inning and promptly, Devin Fields walked and Hunter Chase dug a pitch out of the first and deposited it over the center field fence to make it 9-7. But just as it looked like Green City would be getting the momentum back, Spencer Weir dropped to his knees and snared Camden Williams’ screamer to kill the rally. That seemed to give Freemyer the confidence he needed to start throwing strikes, and he shut down the Gophers through the fourth and fifth innings.

Meanwhile, Northeast added to their lead as Spencer Weir turned on Michael Hall’s breaking ball and hit it over the left field fence in the fifth and Spencer Gray turned on an inside pitch and singled down the left field line in the sixth to score Rowdy West to make it 11-7. But Northeast’s momentum was halted dead on the next play as Chance Barber hit what should have been the third out of the inning to first. But first baseman Ryan Peavler bobbled it and Barber was safe. Dylan Mildfeldt, running for Gray, tried to go first to third on the play, but although third baseman baseman Nathan Chase missed the tag, the umpire called Mildfeldt out anyway, triggering a rhubarb as Proffitt vehemently contended that the tag was missed. But the call stood and the momentum started swinging in the Gophers’ favor again.

Green City started making some noise in the sixth as Nathan Chase walked on a 3-2 count that was close and Devin Fields singled to left. A wild pickoff try by Freemyer scored Nathan Chase. Hunter Chase went after a breaking ball in the first and struck out, but Fields took third on a wild pitch and came home on Camden Williams’ groundout to cut Northeast’s lead in half.

Rowdy West’s futile attempt to slide into first on a groundout with two outs in the seventh didn’t work, and Northeast had to cling by their fingernails in the bottom of the inning. Alex Barto chopped one off the plate that bounded high into the air; Andrew Freemyer tried for an out that wasn’t there and threw it away, putting Barto on second. Colby Carmack chased a pitch in the dirt for a strikeout; Barto took third as Northeast threw to first to keep the tying run off the basepaths. Michael Hall hit a sharp grounder, but it was right at Reed McIntyre at first and Barto could not score on the play. Green City sent up Thomas Watt, but he grounded out to Chance Barber at second to end the game.
“From day one, we were all over you about doing the little things,” said Proffitt to his team afterwards. The little things paid off in the last two games. “That was a great team we beat and this shows it,” he said.

Proffitt said that the difference this year was that the team remembered the heartaches of the last three district losses and were bound and determined not to let it happen again. “After the North Harrison win, the pressure was lifted and we just hit the tar out of the ball,” he said.

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