Photo by Matt Roth/The American Legion
On Sunday afternoon, Henderson, Nev., Post 40 thought the dream was over.
Standing in the parking lot after a 1-0 loss, team manager Scott Baker congratulated his team on the end of an outstanding season and encouraged his players that they would be back to Shelby.
In the middle of the somber speech, Baker was interrupted by national staff telling Nevada that the team had advanced to Monday’s semifinal via tiebreaker.
After a 7-3 win over Bryant, Ark., Post 298, Nevada is now slated for Tuesday’s championship game.
“This is what it’s all about,” Baker said after the extra-inning affair Monday. “This is such an amazing turnaround from yesterday. We were giving our end of the year speech when we found out we made it.”
As if the roller coaster Baker’s team had been on the final day of pool play wasn’t enough, the back-and-forth affair in the semifinal would raise anyone’s blood pressure.
Henderson, the visiting team due to being a pool-play runner-up, got on the board first in the top of the third inning with a double from Roger Riley and consecutive singles from Ryne Nelson and Jack Thomas Wold. The lead was doubled on a wild pitch which brought home Nelson.
Arkansas leveled the score with a run in the third and another in the fifth, adding to some late game drama in a steady rain.
Arkansas put two on the sixth with one out, looking to take the lead, but Nick Thompson, on in relief, worked out of a jam to keep Nevada level.
That would be a theme.
After Nevada went quietly in the top of the final regulation inning in the seven-inning contest, Arkansas loaded the bases with just one out and the heart of the lineup coming up.
Thompson notched a crucial strikeout with his infield and outfield in, then induced a ground ball to work out of trouble.
After a quick top of the eighth, Arkansas was back at it in the bottom of the frame, getting Alex Shurtleff to third after an error, sacrifice bunt and an advancement on a fly out. Once again Thompson worked out of trouble thanks to a tumbling catch from second baseman David Hudleson in short center field.
“Nick Thompson just made gigantic pitches when he had to,” Baker said. “Defensively we made the plays. This has been such an outstanding tournament and you have to have pitching and defense like that to have a chance.”
That pitching and defense gave Nevada’s offense, which powered the team through the regional tournament, a chance to shine on the national stage.
The team that had scored 66 runs in five regional tournament games had only four runs at the American Legion World Series through the eighth inning of the semifinal, but tacked on five more in the top of the ninth.
Thompson led off with a double to help his own cause and was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt before Riley brought him home with a single to take the lead.
Riley, Wold, Jesse Fonteboa and Garrett Giles also came home in the top of the ninth, all unearned runs, to pad the lead.
Arkansas, a team that faced three straight elimination games in the regional tournament and won a do-or-die game Sunday to even make it to the semifinal, did not go quietly, however.
Logan Allen hit a home run to left field to get a run back, but Thompson shut the door before Arkansas could do any more damage to send his team celebrating on the field to the cry of “one more,” as in one more game until a national championship.
That game will be Tuesday at 7 p.m., against the winner of the second semifinal on Monday featuring Randolph Co., N.C., Post 45 and Omaha, Neb., Post 1.