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Sidney teams claim regular season conference titles

Kirt Manion
Nebraska City News-Press

It wasn’t a sweep, but it was repeat and revenge for the Sidney softball and baseball teams in Stanton on Thursday, July 2, as both teams won the regular season Corner Conference championships.

Sidney narrowly missed on a triple-header of championships.

The Sidney baseball team took the field first at Stanton on Thursday with a chance to win the Corner Conference tournament championship. The championship game of the tournament had begun in the previous week at Essex, but action was suspended due to weather.

Action resumed at Stanton on Thursday and the Vikings were able to escape with a 6-4 victory by holding off a scoring opportunity by the Sidney offense in the final frame.

The baseball team have to wait for a chance at revenge as the Sidney softball team went for a repeat.

They got that repeat.

With Thursday’s 8-1 win over Stanton, the Cowgirls cemented their fifth straight regular season conference championship and continued a title-rich legacy, not just for softball, but for all sports, that few schools are able to match.

This year’s senior class has won nearly every kind of team championship possible, including success at the state tournament.

Revenge came next as the Sidney baseball team took the field for the third game in a triple-header of Thursday action at Stanton. And the Cowboys got the dominant result they were looking for in a 10-4 win which included two home runs by Will Oswald, one of those being a grand slam home run.

After scoring a pair of championships at Stanton, the red-clad Sidney fans went home happy, and, in this year of COVID-19 closures and cancellations, that’s an especially important achievement.

Softball

Sidney 8, Stanton 1

Thursday’s contest was a game of opportunities. Sidney’s offense cashed in on its chances and kept the Stanton offense from doing likewise on the way to decisive win.

Early on, Sidney struggled to take advantage too.

The lead off hitter for Sidney was in scoring position in the top of the first inning, but the Cowgirls recorded three straight outs. Faith Brumbaugh reached on a one-out error and Myrna Rodriguez reached base when her pop fly landed down for a hit, but the Stanton defense rallied to catch both runners off base on the play and ended the inning.

In the third inning, the Stanton defense’s hopes of keeping Sidney off the scoreboard ended. Makenna Laumann reached on a one-out walk. Olivia Larsen followed with a hit and Jolie Sheldon had an RBI hit. Danica Laumann had an RBI sacrifice fly for the second out. After a single by Lily Kinsolver, Sidnie Baier posted a two-RBI hit that made the score 4-0. Brumbaugh kept the inning going by drawing a walk before Stanton got the third out and ended the threat.

A frame later, the scoring continued. Fallon Sheldon posted a lead off single in the fourth. Laumann replaced Sheldon on the bases after a fielder’s choice out at second. That was followed by a single from Larsen, an RBI sacrifice fly by Jolie Sheldon and an RBI hit by Danica Laumann.

Harley Spurlock reached base for Sidney in the sixth inning by drilling a single and then scored on an RBI double by Jolie Sheldon. Sidney got its last run in the seventh inning when Baier drew a lead off walk, was moved a base over by Brumbaugh’s ground out and then came home on an RBI ground out by Kaden Payne.

Offensive leaders for Sidney were Larsen, three singles; Jolie Sheldon, single, double and three RBI; and Laumann, single and two RBI.

Switching to the defensive side, Sidney got a complete game pitching performance from Larsen, who faced tough situations  multiple times but worked her way through to allow just the one run.

Stanton got a lead off triple in the first inning and picked up a run on a Sidney error.

Despite other chances to add to that total, Stanton was left with one run for the game.

Three straight singles loaded the bases for Stanton in the second inning, but two fielder’s choice outs at home ended that threat. Stanton got a one-out single, advanced the runner with a sacrifice bunt, and then loaded the bases again in the third inning with a walk and a fielder’s choice on which ever hand was safe. Another fielder’s choice made for a third out at third base and Sidney escaped again. Three straight singles loaded the bases for Stanton again with two outs in the fourth, but a pop fly out left those runners on base.

After allowing a lead-off single in the fifth, Larsen would then close the door hard by recording nine straight outs.

Larsen, whose pitching and hitting were both highlights of the game, said in the post game that the stress of her outing in the circle was definitely limited because of the excellence of the players around her. When the stress pitches came up, Larsen was confident and relaxed.

“I know that if I throw strikes, they will make the plays behind me,” Larsen said.

Looking back at the recent history of excellence at the Sidney school, it’s easy to see why Larsen would be so confident in her teammates. The Cowgirls’ excellence in all sports has been almost legendary. For this senior class, when it comes to Corner Conference titles, Thursday’s was the last one they could get. And knowing that finality can be a little overwhelming even amid all of the celebrating.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Larsen said of the success and legacy of the Sidney teams. She noted that the success was definitely a product of hard work and dedication to all of the programs. Putting that work into a context or thinking about the legacy of the senior class, Larsen said, is difficult.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet about the impact we have made,” Larsen said.

Baseball

Sidney 10, Stanton 4

Sidney lost the debate in the final game of Thursday at Stanton. But the Cowboys won the trophy, which is likely the more important thing.

Before action could get started, coaches and umpires convened to discuss pitching rules. Since the first game of the day was the resumption of a suspended game, it was being argued that Thursday’s rematch would have to be a considered a second day. According to Iowa rules, a pitcher must throw one day, rest a day and then come back on a third day, so a ruling that the games were individual events and not part of a doubleheader of baseball action could have disqualified Stanton from throwing pitchers from that conference tournament championship.

In the end, the umpires ruled for Stanton in allowing their game one pitchers to perform.

It didn’t matter.

Sidney scored early and late, took the victory and claimed a Corner Conference regular season championship.

Leighton Whipple, Sidney’s starting pitcher, got his team’s offense going with a lead off walk in the top of the first. After a strikeout, Will Oswald hit a single and Cole Stenzel was hit by a pitch. Stanton recorded a second out before Cale Phillips drew a bases loaded RBI walk and Brydon Huntley came through with a two-RBI single.

For a moment it looked as though the first two Sidney batters of the second frame had been erased with outs. After a strikeout started the inning, Whipple put the ball in play and looked to be out on a short stop to first base throw, but the umpire ruled catcher’s interference and allowed Whipple to stay at first. He would eventually score the fourth Sidney run on a ball that got past the Stanton catcher.

The third and fourth innings were quiet ones for the Sidney offense. Brett Gruber hit a single and reached third base in the third inning, but was left stranded. The Sidney side went 1-2-3 with outs in the fourth.

Stanton got three straight outs in the fifth too, but not before Oswald hit the first of his two homers on the night, to raise Sidney’s run total to five.

The sixth inning could have been disappointing for the Sidney side as Huntley made base on a double but was caught stealing at third. Sidney ended up loading the bases in the frame. Kyle Beam drew a walk, as did Whipple and Garett Phillips also walked, drawing his second free pass of the game.

That brought up Oswald. And with one mighty swing of the bat, all the runners came home. Oswald’s grand slam pushed Sidney’s run total from five to nine and seemed to put the Cowboys in total control of the action. Just for insurance, Sidney added one more run in the top of the seventh inning. Two-out singles by Huntley and Beam were followed with an RBI hit by  Clayton Cook.

Defensively, the Sidney team limited its foe by allowing one run innings. Stanton got an RBI hit in the first inning, an RBI sacrifice fly in the third, a run on a sixth inning balk and an RBI hit in the seventh inning for four total runs. Whipple ended his night on the mound with five strikeouts and seven scattered hits in six frames. Gruber was called into the game to pitch the seventh inning and worked around some light trouble to ensure that there would be no Viking comeback.

By the end of the contest, there was little doubt about who the star had been. The win had been a team effort for sure, but Oswald’s two home run night produced, appropriately enough, the biggest fireworks, with Sidney securing a title two days before the July 4 holiday.

Oswald finished 3-of-4 with two home runs and five RBI. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t been going that good leading up to Thursday. Let’s just say he was due.

Oswald said he had been having some trouble relaxing at the plate and credited his coaches for keeping him calm and focussed when the results had not been what he wanted. Oswald said there was no secret formula that came together on Thursday. It was just work translating from practice to the game.

Coach Brad Johnson said Oswald had good hitting sessions leading into the game. And when success came, it set up more.

“It helped me a lot being able to get that first one,” Oswald said of his solo home run.

With no one on base, Oswald was able to relax and get a good swing on the pitch. The experience set him up to be confident when the bases were filled with Cowboys.

Those homers were great, but Oswald gave credit to the members of his team for making plays on defense and for providing punch on offense.

“We came out and played Cowboy baseball. I think everyone was great,” said Oswald. “The W feels better than any individual statistic.”

Coach Johnson shared that view.

“I am super excited,” Coach Johnson said. “Everything came together. You are supposed to play your best ball at the end of the year and we are.”