Wildcats fall one game short

Millard West goes 4-2 in this years State Tournament


Photo by Tenley Wright

Senior Cade Owens fired up after their second round matchup against Millard South. They won this game 4-3 off of an RBI single by junior Drew Borner in the top of the seventh.

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

Starting May 15, the varsity baseball team competed in the Class A State Baseball Tournament. The double elimination tournament featured the eight best teams in the state, as the Wildcats were fighting for a chance to win back to back State Titles. 

Millard West went into the tournament as the fifth seed with a 24-11 record after winning the A-5 District Championship against Omaha Burke 9-1. The Wildcats would first face off against the fourth ranked Papillion La Vista South Titans with a 20-8 record at Den Hartog Field. The two teams faced off earlier in the season, resulting in a 5-1 Titan victory off of a dominating performance from junior Nick Ripple. 

From the first pitch this time around though, you could tell the Wildcats were ready to play. After two singles from senior Kyan Lodice and junior Maddux Fleck with no outs in the first, it set up the Wildcats to jump ahead early. With one out after a sacrifice bunt by junior Drew Borner to advance Lodice and Fleck, senior Ty Kalb launched a ball that got into the gap in right field to score both Lodice and Fleck to put the Wildcats up 2-0. A double by senior Corbin Hawkins scored Kalb, now having the Cats up 3-0 after the top of the first, putting all the pressure on the Titans. 

Hitting wise it was tough to get anything going. Senior Kael Dumont got in a few jams, but for the most part, was able to get out of them to keep Papio South from scoring. The two runs that did come across came on a solo home run by senior Garrett Freeman in the second inning and a double RBI by senior Jackson Trout in the fifth. Dumont would pitch 5.0 innings with five hits allowed, two earned runs and six strikeouts. 

The Cats would add three more runs in the third inning to pull away and keep them in control off of a three run home run by junior Avery Moore that the left fielder didn’t even bother chasing from how far it sailed over the fence. Junior Mason Koch would replace Dumont in the sixth, finishing off the Titans with three total strikeouts and no hits. The Wildcats won 6-2 and advanced to the second round. 

In the second round, Millard West would face off against Q Street rival Millard South. This was their third time meeting this year, and the Wildcats were looking for the three game sweep. This was also the second time junior Jaxson Cahoy would be pitching against the Patriots. The first time he pitched, he went all seven innings and allowed no earned runs. 

The game started out hot for the Wildcats once again. After two walks to get Moore and senior Cade Owens on base, senior Tyler Merkel shot a ball down the line to give Millard West the lead in the top of the second. In the top of the third, Moore launched a ball into the gap to score Fleck and put Millard West up 3-0. All the momentum seemed to be with the Wildcats. 

That would all change on a 2-2 pitch with two runners on in the bottom of the third when sophomore Camden Kozeal launched a ball into the home run deck to tie up the game at three. 

Junior Braden Sweet only pitched three innings which brought out senior Caden Blair. Blair shut down the Cats for three straight innings to keep the game knotted up. Cahoy pitched five innings with three earned runs and 10 strikeouts. Sophomore Drew Deremer would come in for relief in the sixth to shut down the Patriots, and keep it tied headed into the seventh. 

Millard West was looking to take the lead and not let it go to extras. With two outs in the inning, Fleck hit a double to get in scoring position with junior Drew Borner now coming up to the plate. On a 2-2 pitch, Borner hit a liner up the middle and Fleck was able to score to put Millard West up 4-3 headed into the bottom of the inning. 

The Cats would send Koch in to close out the game, and he had three straight punchouts making the large student section erupt as Millard West had taken down their Q Street rival for the third time this year, this time allowing them to move on to the semifinal round. 

“Cahoy did great for us; he just missed one pitch and gave up a bomb, but other than that he was awesome,” Fleck said in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. “I think we all knew we were going to come back and win the game. I just had a little feeling we were going to get something going, and I knew Borner was going to come in and win the game for us.”

In the semifinals, the Wildcats would play Bellevue West. These two teams had met two teams before, The Thunderbirds winning the first matchup 8-1, and the Wildcats winning the second 6-2. Bellevue West was coming off a 2-1 win against third ranked Lincoln East in the second round. 

From the start of this primetime matchup with the Thunderbirds, Millard West controlled the game. After a triple by Moore to lead off the top of second, Hawkins hit a sacrifice fly to give the Cats the lead early. A single by senior Ben VanRooyan and an error helped the Wildcats grab two more runs in the fourth, and some defensive errors by the Thunderbirds helped the Wildcats offensively to score six runs throughout the game. 

The story of the game would be the starting pitching of junior Sam Novotny, who would go all seven innings for his second straight appearance. His final stat line had him allowing only three hits, one earned run and seven strikeouts. The dominating performance by Novotny led the Cats to victory 6-1. 

The win left them as the only undefeated team left in the double elimination tournament, meaning they had already earned a spot in the championship. On May 19 though, they would have to play Lincoln East to determine if they would have zero or one loss headed into the championship game. 

The Spartans were able to jump on the Wildcats early in this one. A sacrifice groundout by senior Brayan Van Meter and a single by junior Keegan Brink helped them jump ahead early in the game 3-0. Millard West needed an answer and got it in the fourth. Kalb was hit by a pitch to drive in a run and a single by sophomore Peyton Moore tied up the game at three. 

“It’s a credit to our team, we know that one inning isn’t something that we get down about,” head coach Steve Frey said. “It’s seven innings and you have to keep fighting.”

The next inning and a half was quiet, but then in the bottom of the sixth, Millard West was looking to take the lead. Senior Cade Owens ripped a ball down the line in left field, scoring Kalb and Moore to give them a two run 5-3 lead going into the seventh. 

Sophomore Caleb Lanphear, who had replaced senior Carter Betts in the third after the rough start to the game, earned the Wildcats win, pitching 4 ⅓ innings with zero earned runs and three strikeouts. Koch would come in to finish off the Spartans and give the Wildcats the 5-3 win, advancing them to the championship with no losses. 

Millard West would face their rival Millard South yet again. The Patriots were coming off of a walk off win against Bellevue West in the last round, and would need to beat the Wildcats twice to take the trophy. 

From the beginning of the day though, the Patriots came to play. They absolutely shut down the Wildcats hitting wise with both Blair and Sweet pitching seven inning games in both matchups with Millard West. The Wildcats were only able to grab two runs throughout both games after Blair and the Patriots forced a game two. The two runs came across on just an error in the first game and a sacrifice fly in the second game. 

Millard South won both games 3-1, and took down the Cats to win the 2021 Class A State Championship. It was their first title since 1980, and after losing to Millard West three times this year before these games, they took down the Wildcats twice to win it all. 

Millard West finished the year with a total record of 28-13. They have ten seniors leaving the program this year. It was a fantastic year for the Wildcats where they had many great moments, and this team has nothing to hang their heads on. 

“I’m so proud of our team,” Frey said. “We had some ups and downs this year but when the post season arrived, our team was ready to go and they gave it a good run.”

The Cats now look to the future with a lot of young talent as they will look for revenge in the 2022 season.