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Local Pony team ends year on a high note

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NELIGH — The Hartington Pony team wrapped up the summer with a memorable tournament run, finishing second at the Quad County League Tournament, dropping in a 12-7 decision against Laurel in the title game on Sunday.

To get there, Hartington (6-9) knocked off the No. 1 seed Atkinson and the No. 4 seed O’Neill to set up the title game matchup.

“I have been preaching all year to this team that it is not where you start but where you end,” Hartington coach Don Whitmire said. “We are playing our best team baseball right now. Coach Scott Heine was calling pitches and our pitchers did a great job of throwing the pitches called for strikes. The team has peaked at the right time of year, focusing on the fundamentals of the game which has carried this young team to the championship. I am proud of how they have competed as a team.”

Hartington routed Atkinson, 9-3, and then held on for a 13-12 win over O’Neill Saturday night to pull within one win of the title.

The Ponies started the tournament like they ended it, with a defeat against Laurel.

They then followed that up with four straight wins, which included a 12-4 win over Elgin to get off the deck and a 10-4 victory over Summerland.

“Offensively, we put some pressure on Laurel, unfortunately we were not able to play strong defense, which caught up with us,” Whitmire said of the opening loss to Laurel.

The team responded well the next night against Elgin. Keaton Steffen threw the ball very well and the team played strong defense behind him. It was one of the few complete games they played all year in the sense of being focused the entire game.

“Against Summerland, the kids played strong defense throughout the game, which kept us in the game and gave our offense the chance to put the game away.”

Brayden Reifenrath had three RBI and Steffen struck out eight to key the win over Elgin and an eight-run explosion in the fourth frame keyed the win over Summerland.

Cole Bensen and Kody Sudbeck each had two RBI to pace the win for Hartington.

Breiton Whitmire and Steffen each had three hits for the ninehit attack against Atkinson while the former included a homerun in his barrage.

Whitmire struck out 15 batters and allowed only two hits to propel Hartington into the semifinals.

In the win over O’Neill, the Ponies saw 12-4 and 13-5 leads disappear as they surrendered seven runs in the bottom of the final frame to turn a rout into a nail biter.

Whitmire, Bensen and Sudbeck all had two hits and Benson had a team-best three RBI.

In the title game, Laurel took a 4-0 lead after the first inning and would never trail to capture the crown.

Hartington committed five errors in the defeat which saw Weston Heine lead the Ponies with three RBI.

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