The Western Nebraska Pioneers aren’t ready to step down as Expedition League champions just yet.
Instead, the Pioneers will take aim at a second straight title after blowing out the Fremont Moo 16-0 in the Clark Division championship game on Wednesday night at Oregon Trail Park Stadium in Gering.
With the win, Western Nebraska advances to the championship series against the Badlands Big Sticks. The best-of-three series will begin on Friday in Dickinson, North Dakota. Game two of the series will shift to Oregon Trail Park Stadium on Saturday, while a deciding third game would also be played in Gering on Sunday if needed.
“It is a huge win any time you can win a playoff game,” Pioneers head coach Jimmy Turk said. “Winning at home is big and for us to throw up a shutout, that is huge just from a pitching and confidence standpoint.”
Wednesday’s playoff opener was never in doubt as the Pioneers plated single runs in the first three innings and never looked back. Will Olson did the offensive damage early for the Western Nebraska offense. Olson doubled in Cole Gambill with the game’s first run and then blasted a solo homer in his second at bat in the third inning to give the Pioneers a 3-0 lead.
Olson was back at it in the fifth. His three-run double helped break things open as the Pioneers scored five runs to extend their advantage up to 8-0.
Any hope of a possible comeback attempt by the Moo was put to rest after Western Nebraska tacked on another five runs in the seventh. Following Quinn Ayers’ run-scoring single, three straight Pioneers ripped doubles. Zack Peterson’s two-bagger plated a pair of runs, while doubles by Jacen Roberson and Gambill plated a run each.
Roberson capped the victory in style by blasting a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to give the Pioneers a 16-0 lead.
“I thought we swung it pretty well,” Turk said. “This team has worked hard and they deserve to be in the championship again. Badlands is going to come hungry, so we have to show up for sure.”
The run support was more than enough for Western Nebraska starter Ty Bothwell. The Indiana University southpaw tossed six shutout innings to earn the win on the mound. Bothwell allowed just one hit, walked five and struck out seven.
Three relievers combined to toss three scoreless innings out of the bullpen. Landon Odom, Isaac Vargas and Hunter Dreves all didn’t allow a hit or run in one inning each. Odom fanned a pair, while Vargas and Dreves each struck out one.
Olson and Roberson both finished the game with three hits each. Roberson and Peterson plated three runs each, while Gambill, Olson and Ayers scored two runs each.
The contest was delayed by lightning for about 45 minutes.
Moo (31-32) 000 000 000 — 0 1 7
Pioneers (48-14) 111 050 53x — 16 11 1
WP — Ty Bothwell. LP — James Scurto.
HR — Pioneers (Will Olson, Jacen Roberson). 2B — Pioneers (Olson 2, Roberson, Zack Peterson, Cole Gambill).