Following a pair of losses to open the 2019 Pathway Games Omaha, the Nebraska Prospects were looking to rebound Tuesday morning against the MNS BlackSox. Despite falling behind early, head coach Scott Stahlecker and his boys responded valiantly with a four-run second frame en route to a 7-2 victory.
“The teams in this tournament are pretty salty,” said Stahlecker. “We only carry 16 guys and we just flat out got beat yesterday. We knew we were going to play some good teams, but the big picture with this tournament was just to work on the little things. Today, we finally put the bat to the ball.”
Prospects starting pitcher Ryan Mendez surrendered a walk in the opening at-bat of the game, and a stolen base and an RBI single later, the BlackSox jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
“Today, we just had fun and focused on what we need to do,” said Prospects catcher Jaxson Simmerman. “Yesterday, we were a bit lackadaisical but today we came out and had no pressure and just got things done.”
Simmerman and the Prospects wouldn’t have to wait long to put some runs on the board. Noah Greise led the bottom of the second inning off with a walk. Two batters later, Trevor Barajas’ triple evened the score at one.
“I saw a lot of fastballs,” Barajas said. “I was able to get deep in the count and see the different types of pitches they were throwing at me until I was able to get on top of one.”
The Prospects weren’t done just yet; not usually known for power, Simmerman would do one better than Barajas’ triple. Turning on a fastball and sending it over the fence for a two-run home run, Nebraska vaulted into in the lead, 3-1.
“I saw a first-pitch fastball,” explained Simmerman. “I was expecting a curveball on the next pitch but when I saw another fastball come out of his hand, I just put a good swing on it.”
Adding a fourth run in the second frame, the Prospects had a commanding 4-1 advantage.
With a sizeable cushion and a bit of confidence, Mendez began to find his groove on the mound. Pitching five complete innings, Mendez struck out five, gave up two hits and allowed just a single run.
“Ryan threw pretty well today,” Stahlecker said. “He didn’t get a real good feel for his breaking pitch until about the third or fourth inning. He was able to keep us in the game until we got some runs on the board and keep us ahead once we did.”
Back-to-back-to-back hits for Nebraska, including two triples from Max Renn and Garrett Anglim, led to two more runs in the fifth frame. All of a sudden, the Prospects owned a six-run lead with just two innings to play.
In stepped Grant Hubka to pitch. Similar to Mendez, Hubka stumbled a bit out of the gate, giving up three hits in his first inning and letting a run come across. However, the right-hander righted the ship in the final inning, delivering two consecutive strikeouts to end the contest.
“Hubka is a big body,” said Stahlecker. “He hasn’t thrown a ton for us but will definitely be throwing a lot more. He had a good fastball today and was able to get his breaking ball going in that last inning, which really sealed the deal.”
With pool play in the rearview mirror, the Prospects will be the top seed in the Silver bracket and will face Great Lakes 17u Black on Wednesday morning at 10:30 a.m. at J.J. Isaacson Field.
“As a team, we just got to stay loose,” Barajas said. “We need to try to have fun again. We play well when we’re having fun and staying loose.”