Oak Grove fails to capitalize on chances in Wood Bat finale

Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
Oak Grove Post 379 starting pitcher Connor Hernandez, right. bends over with exhaustion as he and teammate Brody Armstrong wait for a new pitcher in their pool play game against Omaha (Neb.) Post 211 PDG Storm Thursday. Oak Grove lost 11-2 and finished 2-2 in pool play after starting 2-0.

Sometimes it is how you start instead of how you finish. 

Oak Grove Post 379 learned that lesson the hard way on Friday dropping a pair of games in the final day of pool play in the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational held at Hidden Valley Park. 

In the opening game, a late rally came up short in a 3-2 loss to Lincoln (Neb.) Judds Brothers Construction in a game that decided the champion in pool D. 

Judds Brothers scored all three runs in the first inning and then held off a late charge by Oak Grove in the final inning to clinch the title with a 4-0 pool play mark and earn a berth into Saturday’s quarterfinals. 

Oak Grove yielded six early runs and couldn’t recover in the second game of the day, falling 11-2 to the Omaha (Neb.) Post 211 PDG Storm. 

Oak Grove Post 379's Brody Armstrong (12) reacts after striking out in an 11-2 loss to the Omaha (Neb.) Post 211 PSG Storm in an American Legion Wood Bat Invitational game Thursday. Oak Grove went on to an 11-2 loss.

After a 2-0 start to the tournament, the two straight losses meant Oak Grove (17-8-1) was done in the tournament since Saturday's crossover consolation games were canceled because of weather. 

In the 3-2 loss to Judds Brothers, a trio of free passes to open the top of the first inning became the downfall for Oak Grove. 

Judds Brothers’ first two batters reached on an error and then a hit batter loaded the bases. That set the stage for Cody Bruss – ranked No. 10 in the state of Nebraska for 2022 recruits by Prep Baseball Report – to hit a two-run double.  

Dakota State signee Logan Hunt followed with an RBI single up the middle. 

“We played one of our better games all year and we stunk it up in the very first inning, unfortunately,” Oak Grove coach Jeff Wright said. “A couple errors and we are down. We competed and we did a good job of maintaining our composure.” 

Oak Grove got a run back in the bottom of the first, taking advantage of an error and a wild pitch. Haiden Armstrong and later scored on an error on a sacrifice fly that advanced him to third. Dalton Chaney later scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-2, but Judds Brothers escaped the inning with the lead. 

Oak Grove had chances but failed to capitalize on scoring chances in several innings, including the second and fourth. 

A leadoff single in the sixth inning was erased on a pickoff at first base. Brody Armstrong singled and Dalton Chaney walked to give Oak Grove the tying run at second base, but a ground out and fly ball ended the scoring threat. 

Oak Grove Post 379's Shayton Wright, right, and Cody Cunningham, left, and the Omaha (Neb.) Post 211 PDG Storm runner look for the umpire's call at second base in their pool play game in the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational Friday. The runner was ruled safe as Oak Grove lost 11-2.

“We had opportunities and runners in scoring positions,” Wright said. “We had some baserunning blunders. I disagreed a little bit with one of the non-balk calls that got one of our guys, but that is just one. We made enough baserunning mistakes that we can’t point to one mistake." 

Oak Grove had one more chance against Judds Brothers in the bottom of the seventh. Mason Freece had a one-out single and then his courtesy runner, Shayton Wright, swiped second base. 

Cody Cunningham hit a pop fly that fell into center field, but it was so shallow that Wright stayed at second base. 

Max Roberts then got a line out and his second strikeout in the inning to record the save. The line out was a key play in Jeff Wright’s eyes. 

“The right fielder, he had to have caught it just in the tip of the webbing,” he said. “Three inches higher and not only is our runner on second scoring to tie the game, our runner on first probably scores from first to win the game. It’s a game of inches – the classic game of inches.” 

In the 11-2 loss, the Omaha Storm scored grabbed a big early lead, scoring two runs in the first inning and four in each of the second and fourth for a 10-2 advantage.  

“This game was a bit of a hangover from the first game, but honestly that was the best team we saw in our pool, by far,” Wright said. “They hit the ball well and their pitcher, he threw 95 pitches in four innings. That doesn’t happen, and if it happens you are putting up a bunch of runs and he is out there to take one for the team kind of thing. You don’t usually have a guy throwing 95 pitches and we have one or two hits. We made some noise; we just didn’t hit the ball.” 

Oak Grove Post 379 starter Connor Hernandez, front. throws a pitch as an Omaha (Neb.) Post 211 PDG Storm runner takes off from first base in an American Legion Wood Bat Invitational pool play game Thursday. Oak Grove lost 11-2 and finished 2-2 in pool play after starting 2-0.

After an inning, Post 379 faced only a one run deficit, 2-1, but then struggled to keep the PDG Storm at bay. 

Haiden Armstrong opened the bottom of the first inning with a walk and went to third base on a single by Brody Armstrong. Dalton Chaney hit a ground ball to second base that scored Haiden Armstrong. 

That was the closest Oak Grove came to tying the game. 

The final run for Oak Grove came in the third. Wright and Brody Armstrong walked and Dalton Chaney reached on an error. On the same play, the Storm shortstop made a throwing error trying to get Shayton Wright at third base, and Wright scored easily. 

Armstrong and Chaney each moved up a base but were both left stranded in scoring position when Canton Diedrich got a strikeout. The right-hander threw 95 pitches in four innings but gave up only three hits and two runs (one earned) and mixed in six walks to go with eight strikeouts. 

“Reality of the situation is if you get one hit or two hits, you won’t win any games. That was really the story of the game,” Wright said.