Tribe looks to add district title to first league championship
Yuma High School baseball can finally hang a banner.
“It’s definitely something you strive to do,” coach Brady Nighswonger said. “It’s taken awhile but we’ll take it. Our kids definitely are deserving.”
Your Yuma Baseball Indians — league champions!
YHS did not have a baseball program for nearly two decades before it was resurrected in the mid-1980s. There have been a lot of memorable teams and players in the 30-odd years since.
However, YHS has never had a league champ in baseball.
At least until this past Saturday, when the Indians swept a doubleheader at Holyoke, 8-0 and 17-7, clinching the Lower Platte Activities Association regular season championship.
(Of course, the Indians played in the ultra-competitive Northern Plains/Patriot League for much of the past 30 years. The school dropped down into 2A, and the LPAA, in 2011, yet a league title continued to elude the Tribe.)
Yuma finished 13-1 in league play, and are 14-4 overall heading into the postseason. Wiggins went 10-4, Holyoke 9-5, and Haxtun and Wray both 7-7 to round out the top five. Merino, Caliche and Akron rounded out the league standings.
The Indians also are the top seed for district for the first time. They finished 7-1 against the other LPAA 2A teams to clinch the No. 1 seed for District 2, which has been rescheduled to Saturday at Akron. Holyoke and Wiggins finished 5-3 against the District 2 teams to earn the second and third seeds, Wray 3-5 for the fourth seed, and Akron 0-8 for fifth.
The Wray-Akron game has been rescheduled to Friday in Wray, with the winner facing Yuma in the 10 a.m. semifinal on Saturday. Holyoke and Wiggins will play in the 12:30 p.m. semifinal.
The winners meet for the district championship at 3 p.m.
Yuma will be seeking its second District 2 title, having first won it in 2013, when the Tribe advanced to the regional final. That team currently holds the program’s best-ever record at 19-4.
“If we can take care of business in this district tournament, we should have a good shot at a top-four seed (for regional),” Nighswonger said. “Anytime you get those higher seeds, it tends to help out who you’re playing.”
Plus, the Indians are safely into regional set for next weekend in Pueblo.
The eighth district champions and the remaining top eight teams in the 2A Rating Percentage Index qualify for regional, and will be seeded according to their RPI ranking after district. Yuma was No. 4 in the RPI as of Thursday, and likely will remain near the top if they can win district.
“It’s a really tough district,” Nighswonger said. “There’s a good chance we could get three into regional”
As of Thursday, Wiggins was No. 10 in the RPI, Wray No. 15 and Holyoke No. 17.
However, the Indians’ only focus this week is breaking through in district, after suffering a string of bitter defeats in the five years since winning the 2013 title. It includes last year’s late-inning collapse against Merino in the quarterfinals.
The Indians enter the postseason on somewhat of a roll, having won four straight after stumbling through a 1-3 stretch in the middle of April. It began with a non-league win at Burlington, then a comeback win over rival Wray last Tuesday, then the sweep at Holyoke last Saturday.
The Tribe has had a tough go at the Holyoke ball park through years, but left no doubt last Saturday. Still, the day began a bit differently as smoke started billowing from a house across the street as the team got off the bus and started warming up.
Luckily, no one was injured (the family was in their front yard in lawn chairs taking in the games later in the day), but it did result in a one-hour delay until the Holyoke Volunteer Fire Department could clear the scene. Plus, the YHS Prom was that evening, so an already-tight schedule got even tighter.
The Tribe, though, did not let any of that distract them, keeping focused on that desperately-sought after league title.
Any tension the Indians might have felt was greatly alleviated in the top of the first inning of the opener, when Trevor Salzman came through with a two-out single to center, scoring Manny Tena (who reached on a walk) from second.
Giovanny Rodriguez then launched first career home run over the right field fence in the second inning. Conner McCoy then was hit by a pitch, and eventually scored on Tena’s sacrifice fly to left. Another run came in the third when Steven Wells drew a walk and ended up scoring on an error.
The Indians went scoreless in their next two at-bats, but then scored three in the sixth. Alex Falconburg led off with a double to left. He scored on an error on Tena’s hot shot to short. Tena scored on Chase McCreath’s double, and McCreath came home on another Salzman single.
They tacked on one more in the seventh when Falconburg hit an opposite-field double to right, and scored on McCreath’s single.
All those runs after the first were just overkill, of course, as lefty Paul Brophy was on the hill. He twirled a complete-game, two-hit shutout, striking out 15 and walking one.
Brophy recorded his 100th strikeout of the season early in the game, and now has 108 entering the postseason, re-setting his own program record of 105 Ks he established last season.
Falconburg had two doubles and scored two runs, McCreath two hits with a double, two RBI and one run, Salzman two hits and two RBI, Rodriguez the homer, Tena two runs and one RBI, Cayden Lynch one hit, and Wells and McCoy one run each.
The win secured the LPAA championship for the Indians. However, a second win would guarantee the top seed for district without having to go to the tie-breakers.
It looked like a sure thing early on as two doubles and two singles powered a first-inning six-run uprising the Indians.
They added a run in the third and fourth for an 8-2 lead.
However, the Dragons finally broke through in the home half of the fourth.
Yuma starter McCreath struggled with his control as four walks and two singles led to five Holyoke runs.
Suddenly, Yuma’s lead was just one, 8-7.
The Indians were not about to let is slip away on this sunny Saturday afternoon, however.
They responded with nine runs in the top of the sixth. Yuma had just four hits in the rally, including doubles by Tena and McCoy, with three walks, a hit by pitch and one Holyoke error helping the cause.
Now leading 17-7, Tena (who had relieved McCreath during the previous inning) struck out the side in the home half to end the game.
“I think the one thing that stands out most to me was inning four in Game 2, when they got that thing tdown to 8-7,” Nighswonger said. “Earlier in the year we had problems regrouping when things went wrong, but Saturday we answered right back with nine runs. The guys responded well and retook control.”
Wells went 4-for-4 at the plate with three RBI and three runs, Tena had two doubles among his three hits, with one RBI and two runs, McCoy a double, four RBI and one run, McCreath a double, one RBI and one run, Lynch one run and one RBI, Salzman three runs, Falconburg one run, and Joey Ross and Rolando Caraveo one run each.
McCreath got the pitching win, striking out six and walking six, while allowing five earned runs on three hits in 3-1/3 innings. Tena had four strikeouts and one walk in 1-2/3 innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on two hits.
“We’ve got a pretty good ballclub,” Nighswonger said. “We’ve got the talent to push this out a couple of more weeks. It’s just a matter of playing good baseball.”