ALLIANCE — Currently riding an 11-game winning streak, nobody is entering this week’s Class B, Area 7 Senior Legion Baseball Tournament hotter than the Alliance First National Spartans.
Alliance, the defending champion, earned the No. 1 seed with a sparkling record of 36-7. The Spartans drew a bye into the second round and will meet the winner of Friday’s first-round game between No. 5 Sidney and No. 4 Chadron. That contest will kick off the action at 4 p.m. in Ogallala. Friday’s other opening-round game features No. 3 Gering Platte Valley Companies and No. 2 Ogallala. First pitch for that contest is set for 7 p.m.
The winner of the B-7 tournament will earn an automatic berth into the state tournament, which will be held at Oregon Trail Park Stadium in Gering. As a result of hosting state, Platte Valley Companies is guaranteed a spot in the eight-team field.
Alliance head coach Carlos Palomo believes his squad is entering postseason play with a lot of momentum.
“We are hitting on all cylinders right now,” he said. “I feel like the offense is really playing at a high level. We are having some great approaches at bat and we are finding ways to score to win. I think one difference from last year’s team, where we have similar records, is we have been down in games and these kids have fought back to find a way to win.”
Alliance’s lofty overall record is quite impressive considering the Spartans beefed up their regular-season schedule, including playing some tough teams in early June in a tournament in Omaha. Alliance opened that tournament with a 9-2 win over the Omaha Bryan Bears before falling to the Bennington Badgers 2-0 and Omaha South 2-1.
Palomo said his team has learned a lot against the tough competition.
“It is all about buying in. They did that over the course of the year. They put in the work during the off season and they put in the work in the weight room,” he said. “We even strengthened the schedule with tougher competition. It all started this summer in Omaha. We played the defending Class B state champs tight through six innings before we ended up losing 2-0. That right there showed us the team that we had and the potential we had. They believed in each other and believed in what we do.”
Despite the amount of success enjoyed by the Spartans in the regular season, Palomo knows it won’t be an easy task winning the area championship again. Alliance lost to both Gering and Ogallala during the season and he believes every team has improved dramatically throughout the campaign.
“At this time of the year a lot of teams are very much improved,” he said. “I know Chadron is hitting the ball well and they are playing a little more consistent defensively. Either team we play first, I know we will have to show up and play our game. We can’t take anything lightly.”
If the Spartans can repeat as area champs, Palomo will get the opportunity to coach at state in his home town of Gering. With it being so close to Alliance, the crowd should be in favor of the Panhandle teams.
“When I first heard it was back in my home town of Gering, I thought it would be awesome to go back and play in front of family and friends with it being closer to home,” he said. “I also see it as a home field advantage for us if we would make it with it being 45 minutes down the road. We will just take it game by game and control what we can. It would be cool if we can make it there, but we have to focus on controlling what we can and hope it pays off.”
Friday’s opening B-7 game will mark the fourth meeting of the season between Chadron and Sidney. Chadron swept all three matchups in the regular season.
The nightcap will be the third meeting of the season between Gering and Ogallala. Gering earned a 3-2 win on June 20 behind Jack Franklin’s 10 strikeouts on the mound. Ogallala evened the series with a 12-3 victory a couple weeks ago.
Platte Valley Companies enters the postseason with a record of 23-13-1.
Class B, Area 7 Seniors
Game 1 — No. 5 Sidney vs. No. 4 Chadron First Nationals, 3 p.m.
Game 2 — No. 3 Gering Platte Valley Companies vs. No. 2 Ogallala, 6 p.m.
Game 3 — Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 7 p.m.
Game 4 — No. 1 Alliance First National Spartans vs. Winner Game 1, 4 p.m.
Game 5 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m.
Game 6 — Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 2, 5 p.m.
Game 7 — Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 6 p.m.
Game 8 — Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 7, 5:30 p.m.
Game 9 — If necessary, 7:30 p.m.