Successful weekend for the Wildcats

Millard West baseball goes 3-1 in the Metro Tournament


Photo by David Rochford

Senior Kael Dumont pitching in the 5-2 victory against Millard South in the second round of the Metro Tournament. He pitched all seven innings, only allowing the Patriots to score a total of two runs. “It felt like we were finally clicking as a team,” Dumont said. “The week before we went 0-4, so coming out and beating them on Tuesday and then again on Thursday really helped us gel together.”

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

On the week of April 14, the varsity boys baseball team competed in the Metro Tournament along with 16 other teams. The Wildcats went in with the eight seed with a 12-6 record. 

It would be a tall task for Millard West, as they were in the top part of the bracket going against some tough teams, being in the part of the bracket with the number one seeded Millard South Patriots.

The first team they faced was the 6-6 Gretna Dragons. Junior Hudson Hart got the start on the mound for the Dragons while junior Sam Novotny started for Millard West. Novotny went into the game with 14 strikeouts on the year while Hart came in with a 3.17 ERA (earned run average).

“The team proved to themselves in the Millard South game before the tournament that they are one of the best teams,” head coach Steve Frey said. “If we play like we know we can, we’re as dangerous as anyone. You just need to pitch well, play defense and come up with timely hits. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter what record you have.”

Millard West dominated from the opening pitch. Hart struggled on the mound, walking six batters and having multiple hit batters. The Wildcats would jump on the Dragons early, scoring four runs in the bottom of the second to take control. After a groundout to start the inning, three straight runners were walked to load the bases. Juniors Devin Jones and Rice Whitaker both got walked to score two runners, and then junior Maddux Fleck hit a single to score two more runners and put the Wildcats up by three. 

In the bottom of the fifth, the pitching struggles continued for the Dragons, walking more batters to put runners on the bases. Some wild pitches allowed those runners to come home along with a single by junior Drew Borner. That put Millard West up by five, and with Novotny’s dominating performance on the mound, that would be enough. 

Novotny only allowed one run, and it was in the first inning due to a passed ball by sophomore Caleb Lanphear behind the plate. Other than that, he dominated on the bump for the Wildcats. He pitched all seven innings with only two hits allowed and nine strikeouts. A big key for him was that he only had 87 pitches throughout the entire game, moving through the Gretna lineup with ease. The great pitching performance and timely runs helped West move on with a 6-1 win. 

“I thought it was very important to come out and get an early lead on those guys,” Fleck said. “I think Sam (Novotny) did a great job of giving us a comfortable lead and didn’t even give up any hits until the last inning. I wish we could have put a few more runs on the board and just dominated that game.”

Millard West then moved on to play Millard South. The Patriots were coming off an 11-1 victory over Omaha North in the opening round. These two teams had met earlier in the week, resulting in a 4-0 Wildcat win. 

South jumped on West early, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first. Two errors and a walk helped senior TJ Urban and senior Christian Hobbs score to help the Patriots go up by two. From then on though, the Patriots would not touch home again. The Wildcats would have another great pitching performance, this time from senior Kael Dumont. He pitched a full seven innings, the third straight Wildcat pitcher to do that, helping lead West to victory. He allowed three hits, had two strikeouts with a pitch count of 101. Some great fielding by West also helped their defense keep the score where it was. 

Leading up to the game, all I could think about was how much we wanted to beat them again and what it would mean for the school to beat them twice in one week,” Dumont said. “Making adjustments was the key. I realized the zone wasn’t favorable so I threw my curveball to try to get soft contact and let my fielders do the work after that.”

On the hitting side, West faced a great pitcher in junior Braden Cannon. Senior Ty Kalb would knock in Borner for the first run of the day in the second. The Wildcats would add two more in the top of the third with multiple infielding errors by the Patriots. Whitaker hit a double to score Jones and junior Avery Moore would hit a sacrifice fly to score Whitaker to add some insurance in the top of the seventh. The Wildcats would get three straight fielding outs, and held on to beat the previous number one team 5-2. 

West would move on to face the 9-10 Elkhorn South Storm. They were coming off an upset over Millard North in the second round. Elkhorn South was ranked 12th in the tournament. 

This game was very back and forth, with only one run separating these two teams at the end of the day. A sacrifice fly by sophomore Eli Small and an error by the Millard West infield helped the Storm jump up 2-0 in the first. West would answer back in that same inning with an error and a single RBI by Moore. 

Junior Cole Goeser knocked in two runs in the top of the third and junior Jayson Bertsch hit a double RBI to put the Storm up 5-2 going into the bottom of the fourth. A four run bottom half of the inning was all the Wildcats needed though the rest of the way. Fleck scored two RBI’s and Whitaker and senior Corbin Hawkins both scored one all off of singles to put Millard West up by one. That would be all they needed, as no more scoring happened and the Wildcats held on to win 6-5. 

Hawkins struggled on the mound for the Cats, allowing three earned runs but sophomore Drew Deremer and junior Mason Koch shut out the Storm for the rest of the game for the win. 

“It felt great to be able to come through for the team and give us the lead,” Fleck said. “Many other guys have stepped up in previous games, and it was my turn to come through for the team. I think it was crucial for us to jump on the starter’s fastball because he didn’t really go to any off speed as well as letting their pitchers beat themselves.”

With the win, the Wildcats moved on to the championship game to play the number two ranked Bellevue West Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds had dominated in the tournament so far, outsourcing their three opponents by a total of 17 runs. 

Bellevue West continued their domination in this championship game. They jumped on Koch early and never looked back. Seniors Cam Madsen and Gage Allen both had two RBI’s in the game and senior Tyler VanDerwerken had three, including a triple in a five run bottom of the fifth that helped the Thunderbirds pull away and put the game out of reach. 

Senior Jack Bland pitched all seven innings for the Thunderbirds, dominating on the mound with only one earned run allowed. That domination and the flurry of offense helped the T-Birds win 8-1, giving them the metro championship title. 

“I don’t think our struggle in that game was due to our hitting but more of how we start games,” Frey said. “It’s tough to try and come back from behind, and if we start cleaner, it just makes it easier. I’m confident in our team, and I think this weekend showed what kind of team we are.” 

After the long weekend, the Wildcats came out with a 15-7 record. Millard West will be looking for revenge as they play Bellevue West again on April 27. With the season getting on the back half, the Wildcats are looking to get ready and primed for a postseason run at State.