The challenge ahead of the Pioneers is a daunting one as they will face the Badlands Big Sticks in the best-of-three title series. Game one is set for Friday at 6:35 p.m. in Dickinson, North Dakota. The series will then shift to Gering for Saturday’s second game and a deciding third game on Sunday if needed.
“We have two more wins to get the championship,” said Pioneer southpaw pitcher Ty Bothwell, who pitched six scoreless innings in Wednesday’s 16-0 rout of the Moo. “That was our goal from the start.”
This is the second straight year the Pioneers and Big Sticks have faced off for the title. Western Nebraska swept Badlands in two games to win last season’s inaugural championship.
“I think our guys are looking forward to it,” Pioneers head coach Jimmy Turk said. “They know Badlands is going to come and try to beat us after we beat them last year, so we will have to show up.”
The two lone teams left standing have been a cut above the rest of the competition all season long. Western Nebraska boasts the league’s best record at 48-14. Badlands isn’t far behind with a mark of 46-19. The Big Sticks rolled to an 11-1 win over the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs in Wednesday’s Lewis Division final.
The Pioneers and Big Sticks squared off five times during the regular season. Western Nebraska won three of those meetings, including the most recent by a score of 10-6 just a week ago.
“They have a pretty good team this year and they are going to be tough,” Turk said. “They are going to challenge us and I think the games will be competitive. We will have to come out and throw strikes and play defense behind our guys.”
Everything was clicking for the Pioneers during Wednesday’s division-clinching victory. Three Western Nebraska hurlers limited the Moo to just a single hit in the nine-inning contest.
Bothwell certainly did his part as the starter. While he finished with an uncharacteristic five walks, the Indiana University pitcher struck out seven.
“My main goal when I went out on the mound was to put my team in a position to win,” Bothwell said. “We went out and played hard.”
The Pioneers piled up their 16 runs on 11 total hits. Will Olson swung one of the hot bats as he went 3-for-5 with a homer, two doubles and five runs batted in. Jacen Roberson also finished the game with three hits, including a homer and four runs batted in.
“Our offense really killed it,” Bothwell said. “It was a huge win for us, especially since we had seen Fremont only one other time this half. We knew it was going to be a tough game just because that’s how baseball is. Everything just fell in place for us.”