NELIGH — Don Whitmire knows baseball.
His Hartington Pony team traveled to Neligh last week for a few days of season-ending competition and came away with the Quad County Tournament championship with a dramatic, 11-9 win over O’Neill in the July 13 title game.
The Hartington squad (19-4) beat O’Neill in two of three meetings to capture a spot in the title game with a 16-4 win two days earlier. O’Neill played itself back into title contention and dropped Hartington, 12-2 in the first final, which if Hartington had come out on top, they would have ended the tourney right there as champions.
Instead, it all came down to a winner-take-all matchup on the tournament’s final day.
The win captured the double of winning the regular season and tournament titles for Hartington.
“This team set a goal to win the championship this year, as many were on the team last that finished runner up,” Coach Whitmire said. “The team was coachable throughout the year and the team met their goal. I think the biggest game we played was against the Lincoln Black Sox in the Wakefield tournament. We lost 3-0, however, the team we lost to was playing their 48th game of the year. We were a couple hits/plays from winning this game and I believe the team understood how good they could be if they continued to play as a team.
“The next weekend we won the Pierce tournament and beat a really strong West Point team, and we kept rolling.”
In the title game, Hartington broke out to a 10-3 lead through two innings and held off a methodical rally by O’Neill, which scored in all six innings, but only once in three and twice in the others.
Breiton Whitmire hit a homer and Cole Rosener had three RBI while Jared Rutar, Cole Bensen and Whitmire all had two RBI each. Bensen led the team with three hits.
Brady Hochstein pitched five innings for the win and Jaymison Cattau earned a save.
Coach Whitmire noted that a 3-1 win earlier in the tournament was a turning point for the team.
“We tried to keep Breiton (Whitmire) under the pitch count in order for him to come back on championship day, however, Creighton was able to score a run and got the tying runs on second and third, so we brought Breiton back in for the last two outs,” Coach Whitmire said. “Breiton struck out the last two batters and in the process pitched 71 pitches which put him five pitches over the limit in order to come back for the championship.”
Despite losing the younger Whitmire to the pitch count, the Hartington squad was able to roll past O’Neill in the teams’ first encounter.
In that contest, the Hartington squad scored seven times in the second inning and nine times in the third to cruise to the win in just four innings.
Bensen and Rosener each had a homer while Rutar had four RBI while Bensen had three and Rosener and Breiton Whitmire drove in two runs each.
Hochstein and Rosener combined on the bump for the win.
Then came O’Neill’s fight back and easy win to set the stage for what ended up the true final.
“In the first game of the championship O’Neil came out on fire,” Don Whitmire said “Everything they hit found a hole and every hit we had was right at them.
“I was concerned with how we would respond. It is hard to beat a good team like O’Neill two times in one year, let alone three and coming off a game in which we lost by 10.”
Hartington had beaten O’Neill in the regular season.
“I am really proud of this team,” Coach Whitmire said. “We played O’Neill four times this year and went 3-1 against them. The only losses O’Neill had on the year in the Quad County was to our Hartington team. They are a very well coached team, and it took a team effort to be successful against them.”
Hartington batted .370 with a .513 on-base percentage and had a 2.9 ERA for the season.
“Our pitching and defense was solid all year, we started off slow with the bats but our defense and pitching was solid all year,” Don Whitmire said. “We gave up 69 runs - 49 earned - in 23 games while scoring 220 runs. We struck out 198 batters while only giving up 69 walks.
“Being able to throw strikes and not give up free bases is crucial in baseball as you avoid big innings.”
Breiton Whitmire went 6-1 with a .827 ERA and struck out 93 batters over 42.1 innings while Rosener was 3-2 with a 3.8 ERA.
Seven batters hit over .330 let by Breiton Whitmire (.519), Bensen (.483), Cattau (.462) and Maverick Heine (.425).
“In addition to our hitting we were also tremendous at getting on base,” Don Whitmire said. “Each of our top seven hitters above had an on base percentage above .450. Most importantly to me is we were not idle when we got on the bases.
“As a team we stole 169 bases, Brady Hochstein and Maverick led the team with 24 steals each.”
So what next for the now-reigning Pony champions for 2022?
“Hartington baseball has a bright future,” Don Whitmire said. “We lose some key players off this team, however, we have some young kids on this year’s roster who will step in to those roles and we have a strong 12-year-old team coming up so we should reload – not rebuild - for another championship next year.”
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