The North Platte FNBO Nationals had its best offensive inning of the season in the first game of a doubleheader against Kearney on Tuesday.
The Nationals collected eight hits and had three more runners get on base in the bottom of the fourth. It allowed North Platte to score 10 runs, and take the game 12-4 by mercy rule.
While the bats may have been alive that inning, they died down somewhere between the end of the first game and the start of the second. The Nationals managed just two hits, while Kearney did enough on both sides to keep North Platte at bay and take the win.
North Platte 12, Kearney 4,
Take away the Nationals’ fourth inning, and the game would have been vastly different. Kearney had taken a 3-2 lead, and while North Platte had its chances early, it couldn’t put runs on the board.
Then came the largest rally of the season. The Nationals got their first five runners on base off three singles, a walk and a hit by pitch to take the lead.
Two batters later, Derrick Kuhlmann had a 2-RBI double, and then scored himself on a Gus Kreber double. Tate Janas got on base before Carter Johnson slapped an RBI single to right field. Jaylan Ruffin roped a 2-RBI double to center field, then later scored on a wild pitch to close out the inning.
North Platte easily took the first game of the doubleheader 12-4 behind an solid performance on both offense and defense.
“We preach about opportunity and preparation. That’s where we finally came through,” said head coach Andy Butler. “It wasn’t just one or two of them, it was 10 of them. That’s unreal against anybody at the senior level.”
Bryce Butterfield pitched all five innings, keeping Kearney to four runs on seven hits and striking out four batters.
North Platte was led offensively by Ruffin, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and scored three runs. Cody Wright and Johnson added two hits each and Kuhlmann had three RBIs.
“Big thing with me in the leadoff spot ... work a full count,” Ruffin said. “’Cause then they’re going to give me a fastball more than likely down the middle. And I just take it where it’s pitched.”
The Nationals got on the board first after putting four runners on base, but only walked away with one run. Ruffin led off with a single and was moved to third off Wright’s double. Kearney starting pitcher Mason Casper hit back-to-back batters, which brought Ruffin in to score, but limited the damage with a pop-up the next at-bat.
Kearney responded by adding two runs in the second inning off an error, a double and a single. North Platte tied it up after Ruffin’s single scored in Janas.
Three singles from Runza in the top of the fourth inning gave Kearney a brief lead, but North Platte’s 10-run bottom of the fourth put the game out of reach. Kearney tried to get a late rally going, tacking on another run off back-to-back doubles, but Butterfield shut them down after that.
North Platte 0
North Platte’s bats may have been the story of the first game, but Kearney’s starting pitcher Seth Stroh was the story of the second.
Stroh, a Wichita State signee, limited North Platte to just one hit and effectively shut it down with eight strikeouts. He was just as good, if not better, offensively. He went 3-for-4 in the game, including an inside-the-park home run off a deep shot to center field.
His performance helped Kearney take the game 5-0 and split the day with North Platte.
“That’s a top-20 progam in the nation baseball-wise,” Butler said. “When you hear something like that ... he made a couple doubles look easy where we didn’t get beat over our head and he was still in at second base without a play.”
Ruffin got the start for the Nationals, going four innings and letting up two runs off three hits. He was replaced by Janas in the fifth inning, who let up three runs on four hits. Trey Barker closed out the game in the seventh and let up just one hit.
This game was all Kearney offensively. The Runza collected eight hits and put runners on base every inning. They struck first in the second inning after loading up the bases. Jaxon Worley scored on a wild pitch, and Ruffin got out of the inning on a fly out. Stroh’s home run the next inning set the score at 2-0.
Kearney extended its lead in the fifth inning off three-straight hits. Stroh doubled, Casper singled and Nick Carlson had an RBI single. Later that inning, Conner Clevenger roped a 2-RBI double to put the game at 5-0.
North Platte got another hit in the bottom of the seventh, but couldn’t get something going. The Nationals have a quick turn around with another double header Wednesday against Lexington.
“At the senior level, (Lexington is) going to have guys who throw strikes, and we just have to hit and play the defense that we can,” Butler said. “It’ll be our first time seeing them and the first time I’ve seen them in four years. So there will be a little bit of scouting tonight.”