Aurora Juniors claim district championship

by Richard Rhoden

A fourth trip west to Cozad in five days did little to slow down the effort of the Aurora Juniors chasing a district title.
A  game-defining seven-run sixth inning proved to be the winning moment for Aurora, who won the Class B Area 6 tournament with a 9-2 win over Gothenburg.
The victory qualified the Juniors for the Class B state tournament in Nebraska City. Aurora’s first round matchup is against Springfield Saturday at 2 p.m.
Aurora Juniors coach Jeremy Burgener noted after the game the key for his team was the patience at the plate and aggressiveness on the mound.
“We stayed patient at the plate and continued to throw strikes,” Burgener said. “In this tournament, we had outstanding pitching. Everything on the mound worked out well and at the plate, we either hit the ball really well or were patient enough to draw walks.”
The Juniors garnered the early advantage with a few timely hits and a remarkable showing by Brodi Hansen on the mound.
Hansen threw four complete innings and of the 12 outs he recorded, 10 of those were strikeouts. Of the first 10 batters Hansen faced, he struck out eight of them.
Aurora got onto the board first as Cy Bullerman drew a walk and proceeded to steal second and third bases. He scored on a sacrifice fly from Hansen.
The Juniors added a second run in the second as Kolby Wessels hit an RBI single to right field. However, for the second consecutive inning, the frame ended prematurely as an Aurora runner was caught running for the third out.
One of the big differences in this game and the one Aurora defeated Gothenburg 15-8 on Sunday was the pitchers Gothenburg was able to use in the championship game.
“They had some of their better pitching back in this one,” Burgener noted. “We knew it would be a bit different as far as pitching, so we knew we had to fight this one out.”
Things stayed relatively quiet -- thanks to both pitchers -- until the top of the fifth when Gothenburg finally began connecting on Hansen’s pitches. With two on and nobody out, Jarrett Havens came on in relief for Hansen. But, before the inning was over, both the runners on base would score.
However, an impressive 1-3-2 double play prevented a third and go-ahead run to score, keeping the game tied at two. Havens fielded a weak grounder in front of the mound and threw it to Hansen at first, who immediately reacted with a laser to the plate.
“That’s not coachable, that’s instincts taking over,” Burgener said. “For them to react in that fashion, it was an outstanding play.”
The top of the sixth featured another web gem play from Aurora to save a run. With two runners in scoring position and only one out, a grounder was dribbled to Wessels at third, who instinctively fired home to Grant Bonifas to record the out and keep the game tied.
“Kolby reacted right away,” Burgener said. “I was thinking first base, but he went straight to home and Bonifas just had a great tournament behind the plate.”
Aurora essentially won the game in the bottom of the sixth by batting around the order and plating seven runs.
Andrew Archer recorded the first RBI single of the inning, followed by three bases loaded walks and an error. The inning finished with a bang as Hansen smacked a two-run RBI single.
Gothenburg added two runs in the seventh, but not nearly enough of a rally to worry Aurora.
Archer and Hansen each had two-hit performances for the Juniors as Hansen added three RBIs to his day. Bullerman walked and scored twice while Bonifas added a pair of walks.
Bullerman came on for the save for the Juniors, working the final inning and recording the final three outs.
Aurora will be joined at the Class B state tournament by Bennington, Auburn, Springfield, Wayne, Waverly, Nebraska City and Alliance.
“After seeing them play in this tournament, I told them that I’ve been to the state tournament and seen the pitching there,” Burgener explained. “If we pitch the way we did this tournament, we have a very good chance.
“You don’t get to the state tournament without strong pitching. We showed in this tournament that we have that.”

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