By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

Talking Sports: Sidney juniors ready for shot at district crown

 

Somehow it seems like only a couple of weeks ago that the American Legion teams opened their seasons.

Nevertheless, the post season has arrived – for the juniors anyway -– ready or not. While the seniors have two double headers on tap for next week, the juniors have no more time to find their peak form. It's now or never time for them.

On Friday, the District B-7 American Legion Juniors Tournament opens up at Oregon Trail Park in Gering with six teams battling for a berth in the state tournament. Sidney will open up the tournament against Alliance at 4 p.m. as the second of three games scheduled for the day. Sidney has been installed as the No. 4 seed while Alliance is No. 3.

Preceding the Post #17 game will be top-seeded Chadron taking on No. 6 Hershland at 1 p.m. The final game on Friday's slate matches No. 2 Ogallala with No. 5 Gering at 7 p.m. The double-elimination tournament resumes on Saturday and runs through Tuesday. The winner moves onto state, which will be hosted by Bennington. With eight qualifiers, the state affair will run July 18- 22.


Should the locals win their opener on Friday, they would take on the winner of the Gering-Ogallala game on Saturday. A loss would send them into the losers' bracket against either Chadron or Hershey. Chadron should be considered a prohibitive favorite against Hershey.

As discussed last week in this space, Sidney has five players who are on both the senior and junior roster. All of the "flex" players (Arik Doty, Brett Jaggers, Connor Langrell, Zach Means and Keaton Wakefield) see considerable time on the field for both squads. That in itself would seem to suggest the juniors have the better chance to win a district championship. Not to mention, Post #17 has had considerable success against its district foes despite their No. 4 seed.

While the juniors can't necessarily be considered a favorite, they are at least among a group of co-favorites. Districts this year seems to be wide open. Several of the six teams appear to have a legitimate chance to win. That being the case, it seems reasonable to assume in such a closely matched group, that playing clean baseball will be big factor in which team survives until the end. But that's always a big factor at this level.

The juniors finished the regular season with a record of 12-9 overall. More importantly, however, Sidney went 9-3 versus its district rivals. Against Alliance, Sidney won two of three contests with their only loss coming last Wednesday, 13-5. Post #17 topped Alliance 9-6 back on June 9 and 4-3 in the Gering Tournament in mid-June.


The ugly loss to the Spartans seems an aberration. Four Post #17 hurlers combined to walk 14 hitters in that one. Even for this young team, that was a very uncharacteristic performance.

In other words, Sidney matches up well with the Spartans. But of course, Sidney needs to be at its best. The opener could clearly go either way. Lack of control on the mound or sloppy fielding will undo any of the teams involved.

Sidney also has at least a .500 record against the other four teams in the district. The mark against Gering is 2-1, which includes a 13-8 setback at Oregon Trail Park on the final day of June. Sidney handled Gering easily on their two previous encounters (10-2 and 11-1) in mercy-rule fashion.

While Ogallala pummeled Post #17 by a 10-0 score on May 30, the juniors were largely comprised of Babe Ruth level players that day. Sidney showed its true mettle in the rematch with an 8-1 win with its full compliment of players.

Hershey and Chadron have struggled the most against Sidney as both have lost two games without a win. Hershey dropped a 7-1 contest at Sidney in May. At Hershey in June, Sidney came home with a 10-7 win.

At the Gering Juniors Tournament in mid-June, Sidney shut out the Nationals from Chadron, 8-0. On Wednesday night, the locals played poorly in the field but managed to squeeze out a 6-5 victory.

Post #17 was victorious despite making seven errors while Chadron made just one. The game should be listed in the standings with an asterisk, however.

With just two days left before the tournament, neither coach was willing to risk injury or pitching depth to win the game.

 

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