SIDNEY — The Alliance First National Spartans refused to be dethroned as the champions of the Class B, Area 7 Junior Legion Baseball Tournament.
After falling in the first championship game to Ogallala 4-2, the Spartans battled tough pitching and two weather delays to capture their fourth straight B-7 championship by winning 5-2 in the winner-take-all second title contest on Tuesday night in Sidney.
Alliance head coach Steve Gullion was proud of the way the Spartans responded after struggling in the opener.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” he said. “They were disappointed in that first game but they were able to come back and get hits toward the end of the second game.”
The Spartans once again qualified for the state tournament, which will begin Saturday in McCook.
Gullion tipped his hat to a solid Ogallala opponent for playing two great games.
“Ogallala is a good team. They have some good pitchers and some good hitters,” he said. “It was just a really good game.”
Both offenses were slow out of the gate. The two traded runs in the first inning of the opening game, but both struggled to string together hits. Ogallala finally broke through with a run in the fourth, and followed with solo runs in the fifth and sixth innings to go ahead 4-2.
Starting pitcher Corbin Murphy kept the Alliance hitters on their heels to earn the win. Clay Murphy sat down the Spartans in order in the final two innings, recording six straight strikeouts to preserve the win.
Ogallala wasn’t able to roll that momentum into the second game. Early in the first inning, both teams were sent to the dugout for a lightning delay. After nearly an hour of watching the lightning roll across the horizon, the Spartans struck first with a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Ogallala answered right away with a run of their own in the second to tie the game at 1-1.
In the middle of the fourth, the game was again stopped due to weather for another hour. The Spartans used the extra time to refocus and it worked. Alliance came out swinging right after the break, scoring two runs in the bottom of the fourth to break open the game at 3-1. It wasn’t a huge lead, but it sparked the dugout to life.
Gullion said he told the Spartans to get aggressive after struggling at the plate for most of the first game and the beginning of the second.
“Early in the game I didn’t feel like we were very aggressive,” Gullion said. “We were just sticking the bat out there and hoping we’d hit it. After that second delay, we swung the bat really well.”
Ogallala cut the lead to 3-2, but Alliance kept rolling with another two-run inning in the sixth to go ahead 5-2.
Victor Hinojosa dealt nearly the entire game for the Spartans on the hill. He scattered just four hits over 6 1/3 innings, but walked three and hit four batters with pitches. He pitched a gem and gave life to the Spartan defense.
In the top of the seventh, Hinojosa gave up a pop-up single and a walk before reaching his pitch limit. With two runners on and the four and five hole hitters for Ogallala up, the pressure was on for relief pitcher Brantz Halouska.
Halouska didn’t let the pressure of the situation get to him as he struck two of Ogallala’s strongest hitters to save the game for Alliance and punch the ticket to state.
“Vic hasn’t pitched much this year,” Gullion said. “He’s battled control problems but we were down to him and Brantz basically. Brantz came in and did a super job against their four and five hitters. That was super.”
After an exhausting six-plus innings, Hinojosa was glad to give up the ball to his teammate Halouska and watch him slam the door on Ogallala.
“That was huge. That shows the kind of character he has and the teammate he is,” Hinojosa said. “To have the same fire and to come in with runners on first and second against the four and five hole, he came in and did work and I appreciate everything he did.”
Jacob Callan helped the Spartan offense with a 2-for-3 performance, scoring one run. A.J. Escamilla added two hits with an RBI and a run.
Jaden Kelley also drove in one run.
Alliance 100 010 0 — 2 5 0
Ogallala 100 111 x — 4 3 1
WP — Corbin Murphy. LP — Kellen Muhr.
2B — Alliance (Victor Hinojosa, Kellen Muhr). 3B — Ogallala (Corbin Murphy).
Ogallala 010 001 0 — 2 4 4
Alliance 100 022 x — 5 6 0
WP — Victor Hinojosa. LP — Kaden Vogl. S — Brantz Halouska.
2B — Ogallala (Brandon Beamon). Alliance (Chase Boyer). 3B — Alliance (A.J. Escamilla).