Blue Storm season ends, but hosts leave impression



A few too many errors and walks against possibly the top team in Class B proved to spell the end for Falls City’s Blue Storm Seniors’ season.

FC was defeated 11-0 by Hickman last Tuesday in the Nebraska American Legion Baseball Area 1 District Championship, which was held in Falls City for the first time ever.

The Blue Storm allowed Hickman a bevy of extra outs, as they committed four errors, walked eight batters and plunked another three. Eight of the 11 runs were not earned and Hickman, which outscored their district foes 41-0 in four games, finished the game with no extra-base hits for the first time all tournament.

Hickman rolled past Elkhorn Mt. Michael 10-5 Friday  and Saturday defeated Waverly 7-0 to set up a game with Area 4 champion Seward last night at the Class B State Tournament in Gering. A win and Hickman would be three wins away from another state championship, after winning Class B this past spring.

“We didn’t go into either game with Hickman and play scared,” Huppert said. We were ready and they knew it too. It was one or two plays from being a one or two run game. We had a few too many errors and walks. It’s the old story, you walk two or three guys, they get one timely hit and it will change the game.”

FC lefthander Reese Hogue took the loss on the mound against Hickman after he allowed three earned runs and walked four in one inning of work. Hogue struggled with his control out of the gates and tossed 36 pitches in the first inning, 12 of which crossed as strikes.

Chaz Dunn, Jordy Stoller and Lane Scheitel were responsible for FC’s three hits. Dunn and Stoller had back-to-back singles in the first inning against Hickman starter Payton Kinney and Scheitel’s came in the top of the fifth off of Jake Peterson, who had just entered the game in relief.

FC finished 3-2 in the district tournament, 19-12 overall and should return all but two players – first baseman Wade Witt and pitcher Lane Scheitel – in 2014. That experience coming back and the opportunity to play a quality opponent like Hickman twice will keep Huppert optimistic.

FC thrived on the base paths this season and the lack of base runners in the two losses to Hickman put the clamps on their “small ball” philosophy, a philosophy adopted prior to the 2012 season.

Huppert mentioned a story he read about Nebraska Cornhusker head coach Darin Erstad, who said one of the things the Huskers would do was be aggressive on the bases. Erstad said when they were on base, the other team would have to do everything they could to keep them out of scoring position. Huppert began instilling this in his players before last season and said they have made huge strides, no pun intended, since they started working on situational running.

“I told the guys we were going to be aggressive,” Huppert said. “We are going to push ourselves on the base paths. We practiced base running and still have more work to do on our leads and jumps, but I’ve had a lot of coaches tell us how much it affects how they game plan us or adjust during the games. It (aggressive base running) breaks up double plays and sets up the style we want to play.

“We still have to work on the mental part and I think the biggest thing is their mentality when they bunt. Getting over that, ‘I’d rather swing away’ mentality and moving more towards, ‘What do I have to do to get on base or to move one of my teammates over.’”

The Seniors swiped 162 bases this summer and were caught 26 times, which equates to an 86 percent success rate. Up from 80 percent last summer when they stole 160 bags and a dramatic improvement from the 60 stolen bases recorded in 2011.

Huppert also mentioned beefing up the schedule next year and in the future. Waterloo Valley, Springfield, Louisville, whose Juniors recently won the Class C State Championship, and Ashland to the Southeast Nebraska Baseball Conference.

“We may finish .500 next year, but I think it will help us in the long run and push these guys to show them where we stand.

“My biggest thing about wanting these boys to do well this year in the program and putting all the time we put into it, from the players, the parents and the coaches, is to basically show that we need spring baseball at the high school level. We deserve it. These boys want it and most importantly, they deserve it.”

Huppert pointed to the Juniors’ wins over Beatrice and Nebraska City at the area tourney and the competitive games the Seniors had with Plattsmouth and state qualifier Sabetha, KS.   

The other big takeaways from the weekend and the season were the reactions to the brand new Fiedler Complex, notably Southeast Nebraska Communications Field.

Huppert said he spoke with people from each of the other five communities represented at the tournament, as well as visitors throughout the summer and almost unanimously, the sentiments were the same.

“The players, coaches and fans loved it. I heard a lot of good things said about the field. People were really impressed.”

Huppert  thanked Tournament Director Kevin Scheitel and all the volunteers for making Falls City’s first district tournament and this season a success, words echoed by Hickman assistant coach Randy Peterson.

“The overall experience was very positive,” Peterson said. “Beautiful facility, great field, very clean, nice restrooms, very nice staff and parents. Just a very well ran tournament and very positive feedback from the players.”

“It’s appreciated, especially coming from their type of program,” Huppert said in response to Peterson’s remarks. “It all went really well, the new facility, everything kind of came together this year. It would have been nice to get two more wins and have been in Gering this weekend, but it helps us because their word is going to get around to the rest of the area. For so many years we had trouble getting people down here to play us, especially the bigger schools, so I’m hoping now Falls City will be more of a draw.”