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Valley Falls Headed Back to State After Completing Three-Run Comeback in Regional Championship Game
By Jared Sleppy
Copyright: MSC Sports

Valley Falls is headed back to state for the third time in the past four seasons. They defeated Kansas City Christian 7-6 in the championship game to clinch a spot in the Class 2-1A state baseball tournament in Great Bend starting next Thursday. That was after they beat Pleasant Ridge in the semifinals in an NEKL showdown by a final score of 7-2.

Game 1: Kansas City Christian 2, Oskaloosa 0

The day started with top-seed Oskaloosa falling in the semifinals to four-seed Kansas City Christian 2-0.

The first run of the game came in the top of the first inning when Panthers shortstop Owen Alexander scored from third base on an infield error.

The score remained 1-0 for most of the game until starting pitcher Daniel Haivala got an RBI double in the top of the seventh inning.

As for his performance on the mound, he pitched a complete game shutout getting ten strikeouts while allowing just three hits and three walks.

The Bears had opportunities to score throughout the game including having the bases loaded and one out in the third inning. Oskaloosa also stranded a run on third base in three different innings, and they had runners on first and second in the bottom of the seventh inning.

They finish with a record of 24-4, an NEKL championship and a 15-1 league record, which is the most league wins in NEKL history.

Game 2: Valley Falls 7, Pleasant Ridge 2

After a minimal amount of offense in the first game, the second game saw four runs combined in the first inning of the second semifinal between the two NEKL teams.

The Rams started the game with an RBI single from Austin Green. Valley Falls retaliated with three runs coming from RBI singles Carter Pickerell and Brayson Miller, and Hayden Kearney scored on an infield error.

The Dragons added another run in the second inning with Damian Cervantez hitting a sac fly to center field to bring AJ Reeves home.

The score remained 4-1 in favor of Valley Falls until they added two more runs in the fifth inning with Collin Kearney hitting an RBI double and Dylan Herring bringing home another run on a groundout with Zac Evans on third base. Evans would also get an RBI double in the sixth inning.

Evans was virtually unhittable after the first inning. He pitched a complete game and in his six innings of work, he surrendered just two walks, five hits, two runs and had four strikeouts. He did so throwing less than 90 pitches as well.

Pleasant Ridge finished with a 15-5 record and a third-place finish in the NEKL with a league record of 12-4.

Game 3: Valley Falls 7, Pleasant Ridge 6

Valley Falls scored a pair of runs in the first inning to take an early lead thanks to Hayden and Collin Kearney scoring on wild pitches.

They would give up the lead with Dragons pitching allowing six walks and five runs in the top of the third inning.

Valley Falls would get one run back in the bottom of the third with an RBI single from Herring to make it 5-3.

The Dragons would then tie the game in the fifth inning with Pickerell scoring on an infield error and Grant Meyer bringing in a run on a fielder’s choice.

KC Christian regained the lead in the next half inning with Haivala getting an RBI on a fielder’s choice to make it a 6-5 Panther lead.

Valley Falls got some clutch hitting in the bottom of the sixth inning with Collin Kearney getting an RBI single to bring in Cervantez and Zac Evans reached on a single and got to third on the Kearney base hit. Before the first pitch to Pickerell, Kearney took off for second and Evans was able to steal home to take a 7-6 lead.

Evans came in to pitch and get the save after having a few pitches to work with left over from the previous game. He allowed a walk and a hit to give Dragons fans a scare, but he was able to get the final out without allowing a run.

Hayden Kearney got the win by going three-and-a-third innings of relief and giving up just one run, two hits, three walks and three strikeouts. Evans got credited with the save with a pair of strikeouts. Evans was also the lone Dragon with a multi-hit game as he went 2-for-4 with the game-winning run. Pickerell had four plate appearances, and he walked all four times. He scored twice and was a big reason why the Dragons were victorious, despite not getting a hit.

Valley Falls will await to see who they will play next Thursday in the 2-1A state baseball tournament in Great Bend.

Their best finish in school history was in 2021 when the Dragons finished as state runners-up. In 2022, they placed third at state.

©2024 MSC Sports
Hiawatha, KS 66434
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