Wildcats Struggle to Close Out Don Kraft Invite Championship Berth

JD Wessel, Staff Writer

Brock Burling Pitched an impressive six inning’s in the 3-8 championship loss to Creighton Prep.

In this last weekend of March, we saw the Don Kraft Invite hosted by Millard South that featured a highly talented group of teams around the state.

Featured in the tournament was the top three teams in the state in Creighton Prep, Millard South and Millard West. Although the Wildcats showed they were the team inside the top three that showed they had the most issues mid-way through the season, they were also the team that showed the most improvement in this last weekend’s tournament.

The Wildcats started the tournament with an 8-2 win Thursday night over the Papillion-LaVista South Titans, nothing special, but the Wildcats got the job done with using minimal pitching due to Easton Young’s solid five and two thirds innings pitched.

After the warm-up game against the Titans, the Wildcats had a date with the Millard South Patriots, this would be the second meeting between the two. In the first game played, the Patriots bested the Wildcats on their own turf earning a sense of bragging rights early on in the season. In this second match-up we saw a heavyweight pitching battle between two future teammates, both committed to the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Kyle Perry of Millard South and Colby Gomes of Millard West were both looking to outpitch each other.

With a rumored over 15 MLB scouts at the pitching duel both guys were bringing their best pitches, Perry, hit an in-game career high of 91 MPH, Gomes topped out at 93.

Sophomore Drew Wessel was dealing with sickness which kept him out of the semi-final matchup with the Wildcats.

“Even though we didn’t get the win both teams played very good games and I’m still confident about my team’s ability this postseason,” Perry said.

For the first at bat of the game, one of the most talented prospects of the Class of 2020, Sophomore Max Anderson hit an opposite field home run off of Perry. That was the first home run allowed by the southpaw since his sophomore season.

As the game went on both teams continued great defensive play, but in the fourth inning the Patriots managed to push across one run to even it up. The Wildcats answered the Patriots call with three runs off of some opportunistic hitting and small ball, putting Millard West into the driver’s seat for the remainder of the game, moving them to the championship game against Creighton Prep with a 4-2 finish.

The first two times Millard West played the Jr. Jays they struggled from start to finish in each of the two games, eventually getting blown out in each of the games. This championship game was a bit different, with a neutral site game and the right amount of wind the Wildcats had a chance. After five innings seniors Brock Burling and Dylan Phillips hadn’t given up a single run, both pitchers were dealing and neither pitcher looked to let up.

At the top of the sixth inning, Phillips allowed a couple Wildcat runners to reach base and right fielder Jackson Wright drove in two runners with a hit that fell just short of the center fielders outstretched grove. Millard West gained a 2-0 lead heading into Creighton Prep’s bottom half of the inning.

In the bottom half Brock Burling was up past the 70-pitch mark which wasn’t ideally the plan from the start from the Wildcats, but Burling was pitching a near perfect game for the Wildcats up until this point. To start the inning Burling managed to walk three batters to load the game, with no outs recorded yet. Prep managed to bring across three runs off of burling with a big hit from Drew Dunham that managed to bring across two runs.

The Wildcats made the move to bring in Peyton Wendell to try and suppress the damage prep already made. Wendell allowed five runs off of the Jr. Jays putting the Wildcats down 2-8 which practically put the game out of reach with it being so late in the game. Creighton Prep ended up with an 8-3 finish winning the Don Craft Invite, receiving another accolade to this year’s 20 win team.

“Right now I think we’re playing our best baseball, we are getting to a point in the season where every win matters, so this tournament win was a good place to start before the postseason,” Creighton Prep catcher Owen Richter said.

Last season Millard west and Millard South met in a quarter-final game. Will we see the same matchup this season?

The Wildcats still struggled to close out the game against tough competition and left the door open with a lot of questions on if they have enough to beat this near unbeatable Creighton Prep team.

“I really like how our guys played in this tournament, we got a big win against our rivals, and even though we didn’t beat Prep this time we know we can hang with them,” Millard West coach Steven Frey said.

The district tournament begins May 12th at Werner Park, as everyone is finishing up the regular season this week, the six district champions along with two wildcard teams will move on to the State Tournament, Creighton Prep begins with the winning of Omaha Bryan and Fremont Bergan, Millard South plays winning of Omaha Northwest and Lincoln High, and finally Millard West plays the winner of Lincoln East and Omaha North. These top three teams all have paths that should be easy to win out, and we could very well see these three teams all featured in the semi-finals of the state tournament come this postseason.