OMAHA — Some kids just don’t know how to quit.
For the second straight day, the Wayne High baseball team staved off elimination with a seventh-inning comeback Tuesday night in the Class C State Baseball Tournament.
After taking advantage of a walk-off wild pitch to win on Tuesday, the Blue Devils found themselves down 7-2 going into the final inning against a Central City/Fullerton/Centura team that already had one win against them in the tournament.
Undeterred, the Blue Devils exploded for six runs in the seventh to come back and beat the Kernels 8-7, avenging Saturday’s 7-1 loss and moving on to Wednesday’s bracket final matchup against Omaha Roncalli.
Coach Adam Hoffman was still beaming after watching his team yank victory from the jaws of defeat.
“I’m just proud of the guys for staying the course, and we just found a way,” he said. “We had great at bats, didn’t chase anything and made them make pitches, and we got that suicide down and that’s all she wrote.”
The Kernels put up three runs in the first inning at Omaha Westside's Warrior Field, taking advantage of a passed ball and an error by the Wayne defense to score two, with the third coming home on a triple by Jakob Ruhl.
Hoffman said he knew they were in for a tough rematch against the Kernels.
“They’re a great team and we didn’t play our best the first time,” he said. “We did some uncharacteristic things the first time and it was huge coming back Monday and the kids just believed in themselves. We didn’t need to change anything, it was just a mindset thing and we wanted them to enjoy this and they did.”
Wayne would put up single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Wyatt Heikes singled home Brooks Kneifl with the first run, and Devin Anderson scored Will Leseberg with the second to cut the deficit to one.
The Kernels answered with two in the fifth and two more in the sixth and were three outs away from ending Wayne's season, but the Blue Devils had other ideas as they tore apart what was left of the Kernels' pitching and came through with the season-saving inning.
“I told the kids we just had to go pitch-to-pitch and base-to-base and keep working to give yourselves a chance, and I’m just really proud of the boys staying the course.”
Alex Rodriguez started the inning with a walk and was put out on a fielder's choice on Anderson's grounder to third. Gavin Redden followed with a single and Kneifl was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
Aiden Liston reached on an error, scoring Anderson, Redden came home on a wild pitch and Wyatt Heikes walked, setting up an RBI single by Kaleb Moormeier that plated Kneifl.
With the bases loaded, Jason Dean drew a walk to score Liston and pull Wayne within a run. Kaden Keller than laid down a suicide squeeze bunt and Heikes raced home to tie the game. Central City then threw late to first and the ball bounced away, allowing Moormeier to come home with the go-ahead run.
Liston, who came on in relief of Moormeier, set the Kernels down in the seventh and set the Kernels down in order, and the Blue Devils celebrated the amazing come-from-behind win, improving to 16-8 on the season.
Both teams had five hits in the game and Keller's two RBI proved to be the winner. Moormeier pitched 4 1/3 innings, striking out five and walking five, and Liston got the win in relief.
Wayne faces Omaha Roncalli on Wednesday at 4 p.m at Warrior Field and will need to win two to advance to Friday's 1 p.m. championship against either Malcolm or Platteview at UNO's Anderson Field.
“We’re just coming with whatever’s left in the tank,” Hoffman said. “It’s grit and grind we’ll have to come back tomorrow and get ready to go to work.”