Every team in the Class A, Area 7 tournament poses different challenges, but the WESTCO Zephyrs senior legion tournament is hoping to extend its season beyond this weekend.
The challenge begins on Friday at 4 p.m. when the Zephyrs face off with Kearney Runza in North Platte. Head coach Jeremiah Luber knows that if the Zephyrs want to continue the season, they will have to string together some of their best games of the season. The Zephyrs, 29-17, are the No. 3 seed in the tournament. Kearney is No. 2 seed at 30-8 with a high-powered offense and a disciplined defense.
“They are very fundamentally sound. They don’t make mistakes defensively, they’re pitchers do a good job of filling up the strike zone,” Luber said of Kearney. “Offensively, they can really swing it. We’re going to have to play our best baseball game (Friday) to be in the game and win. We feel like if we do and we can, then we’ll be right there. We’re excited for the opportunity.”
But the Zephyrs are entering the tournament with some momentum of their own. The WESTCO bats have started to come around as of late and the pitching staff has continued to throw strikes. The Zephyrs won back-to-back games at home on Sunday and are hoping to keep that streak rolling through the weekend.
“Our pitching has been really good for us. Our guys have competed on the mound and filled up the zone,” Luber said. “We’ve been swinging it pretty well the last couple weeks so hopefully we can carry that into the weekend.”
Leading the Zephyr offense is Paul Panduro, with a .440 batting average and a team-high 62 hits this season. Along with Panduro, the Zephyrs have six other batters in the line up with an average greater than .300.
Even with a little momentum from the weekend, Luber knows that Kearney Runza is a big challenge. The two teams met for a double header in mid-June with Kearney winning the first game 8-1 and the second 9-1. Luber said that the WESTCO offense has improved since the last meeting and needs to put pressure on Kearney.
“Offensively, we really weren’t competitive in those games back in June,” Luber said. “That’s something we need to put the pressure on them a little bit. It’ll help relieve some of the pressure on our defense a little bit. I feel like, offensively, we are in a better position right now.”
The Zephyrs haven’t played since the Sunday double header against Spearfish, South Dakota. Luber said that although not playing the week of the area tournament is unusual, the Zephyrs have been able to get quality repetitions in during the week of practice.
“It gave us the opportunity to really work on some things,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of practices in the last few weeks because we’ve been playing almost every day. We worked on some things and fine-tuned some things so we are rearing to go (Friday).”
Luber said the Zephyrs have been focusing on defensive reps to cut down on errors as well as getting plenty of swings in batting practice.
In the tournament’s other first-round game, No. 5 Lexington Pinnacle Bank will play No. 4 North Platte First Nationals.
The tournament’s top seed, Hastings Five Points Bank will play the winner of the Lexington/North Platte contest.
The championship is slated for Tuesday at 4 p.m., with an if necessary game to follow.
The state tournament is split this year, with the American division playing at Creighton Prep and the National playing at Kearney, both the following weekend.