Pioneers, Big Sticks to play third game to decide Expedition League title

Western Nebraska Pioneers’ Zack Peterson hits during the second game of the Expedition League championship series against the Badlands Big Sticks on Saturday night at Oregon Trail Park Stadium in Gering.

The championship of the Expedition League will come down to one game.

With a 7-2 win over the Western Nebraska Pioneers in game two of the best-of-three title series on Saturday night at Oregon Trail Park in Gering, the Badlands Big Sticks pulled even. The Pioneers cruised to a 9-1 win in the first game on Friday.

The deciding title game will be played Sunday at 4:35 p.m. at Oregon Trail Park Stadium.

With their season on the line, the Big Sticks showed no signs of pressure in Saturday’s contest after plating three runs in the top of the first inning. The big hit of the frame came off the bat of Bryson Ford, who tripled in a pair of runs to give the Big Sticks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the way.

The Pioneers tried to answer in the first as Zack Peterson led off with a double, but he was stranded at third base.

Badlands added another run in the second for a 4-0 lead. Dylan Ditzenberger led off by earning a walk and after two outs, Ford scored Ditzenberger with a single.

That proved to be more than enough run support for starting pitcher Michael Reddick. Reddick struck out nine and limited the explosive Pioneer offense to just two hits in five scoreless innings of work on the mound.

The lead would stay that way until the eighth when the Pioneers finally got something going. With one out, Will Olson launched a home run for the Pioneers’ first run of the game. Colin Ludwig came right back as the next batter and rocketed a double, but that was all the damage Western Nebraska could do in the eighth.

The momentum the Pioneers gained in the eighth was quickly erased in the ninth as the Big Sticks plated three insurance runs on three hits.

Pioneer pitcher Logan Gilbertson quickly got the first two outs and then Fuhrman singled and Ford smacked a two-run home run to give Badlands a 6-1 lead. Nathan Sanders scored the final run for the Big Sticks on a Schwellenbach single.

Western Nebraska tried, once again, to mount a ninth-inning comeback. Chance Medina led off with a single. With one out, Peterson singled to put two on. Medina would later score on a Jacen Roberson single, but that was it for the Pioneers.

The Big Sticks’ offense was powered by Ford, who plays for Tusculum University in Tennessee. Ford went 4-for-4 with two singles, a triple and a home run. Ford also had four RBIs and scored two runs.

Of the Big Sticks’ 10 hits, nine came from the first five batters in the lineup as Michael Fuhrman and MasonSchwellenbach each had two hits.

The Pioneers finished with just seven hits. Peterson was the only Pioneer to have multiple hits, including a double. Olson had the other extra base hit with his homer in the eighth.

The Pioneers’ Josh Robins went six strong innings on the mound. Robins scattered six hits and struck out eight. Also seeing action on the mound for Western Nebraska were Teddy Broxterman, Jaykob Acosta, Gilbertson, and Hunter Dreves.

Big Sticks (47-20) 310 000 003 — 7 10 1

Pioneers (49-15) 000 000 011 — 2 7 1

WP — Michael Reddick. LP — Josh Robins.

HR — Pioneers (Will Olson). Big Sticks (Bryson Ford). 3B — Big Sticks (Bryson Ford). 2B — Pioneers (Zack Peterson, Colin Ludwig).

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Mark Rein is a correspondent with the Star-Herald. Email sports@starherald.com to reach Mark.

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