Pitching has been the staple from which Three Rivers’ success has come in American Legion baseball this season.
It got them through the state tournament and it got them through their regional opener Wednesday and most of their winner’s bracket semifinal on Thursday, both at Hastings, Neb.
Needing three outs to advance, the Bandits’ bullpen came apart and the result was a four-run rally by Nebraska state champion Fremont and a 7-4 loss for the Oklahoma champs.
Up 4-3 going into the seventh, Caleb Burchfield walked the bases loaded, the middle of that group reaching on an intentional walk ordered by Three Rivers coach Mike Whitten after a stolen base put two runners in scoring position.
Whitten brought in Hagen Earls to face Mitchell Glause with the bases full. On a 3-2 pitch, Glause walked to force in the tying run. Brennan Callahan then ripped a two-run single, and a wild pitch brought in an additional run.
The Bandits, playing as the home team, were retired in order in the bottom of the seventh.
“We just didn’t execute,” said Three Rivers coach Mike Whitten. “Hagen has been shutdown all year. I thought he got squeezed on a couple of pitches on the first batter he faced.
"But, we can’t walk seven guys in a game and expect to win, and we didn’t really hit well and didn’t take advantage of some situations at the plate. Missed opportunities, we’ve preached that all along.”
Three Rivers broke on top in the first. Nick Sizemore singled in Tyson Fourkiller, who reached on an infield error, was bunted to second by Darren Daniels and took third on Carson Foreman’s groundout.
Fremont got a run back when Glause singled, moved up on a bunt, to third on a wild pitch and scored on Camden McKenzie’s hit ball resulting in an error at second by Daniels.
One-out singles in the second by Grant Yates and Brock Hendrix were wasted by an inning-ending double play off Sam Replogle's bat, but in the third. Fourkiller reached on an infield error, Daniels singled, Foreman sacrifice-bunted both into scoring position and Sizemore walked to load the bases.
A wild pitch scored Fourkiller and advanced Daniels to third before Boone Lasater doubled home Daniels. Jayce Roberts’ sacrifice fly scored Sizemore, but the Bandits would wind up stranding both Lasater and Grant Yates, who reached on a two-out error.
A double play wiped out another two-on, one-out situation in the Three Rivers fourth. Replogle and Fourkiller walked, Daniels’ fielder’s choice bunt resulted in a force on Replogle at third. Foreman then grounded to first with what became a twin-killing.
Two walks off Colby Mitchell in the fifth, combined with a fielder’s choice and error at first by Hendrix accounted for a two-run Fremont fifth.
The Bandits were retired in order the next three frames.
Mitchell worked the first five innings for Three Rivers, giving up two hits and three walks around four strikeouts. Burchfield threw into the seventh, retiring Fremont in order in the sixth before drawing the three walks in the seventh.
Three Rivers outhit Fremont 5-3, but no batter had more than one hit. At 28-7 the Bandits will face Hastings, Neb., the tourney host, in a 1 p.m. elimination game Friday. Fremont (34-9) plays Festus, Mo., a 2-1 winner over Bryant, Ark., in a battle of the lone unbeatens.
“The guys are frustrated. They knew they were the better team. We didn’t execute, we let them hang around and in the end it bit us in the butt,” Whitten said. “I think they’ll be ready to get back at it. We’re not out, and we’re still in good shape pitching-wise.”