Jaylan Ruffin’s hit in the seventh inning of the second game of a doubleheader on Sunday gave the North Platte First National Bank of Omaha Legion baseball team a sweep of Norfolk. Thanks to Ruffin, North Platte won game two 5-4 after taking the first, 7-1, at Bill Wood Field.
“Coming out and defending the home turf, however we have to, is always the end goal,” North Platte coach Andy Butler said. “Norfolk has split with some pretty good teams this year and to steal two from them is pretty darn good.”
Norfolk took the lead in the first game when Nolan Strand reached on a wild throw by third baseman Tyler Tobey in the first inning.
But the Nationals (24-10) tied the game in the bottom of the first when Bryce Butterfield reached on a drop by second baseman Ryland Bates. They took the lead shortly thereafter on a wild pitch by Jared Ertzner that signaled an early end to the Norfolk starter’s outing.
Ertzner was relieved by Carter Faltys, who got Norfolk out of the first and shut down North Platte the next three innings.
But the Nationals were able to get the ball into play against him in the fifth and it paid off. Derrick Kuhlmann reached on a wild throw by shortstop Brett O’Brien to make it 3-1. Then Tate Janas reached when first baseman Grant Colligan dropped a throw to score another run. Colligan then dropped the next play to allow Carter Johnson to reach and another run scored.
Colligan relieved Faltys in the sixth and with one out, Butterfield hit a single down the foul line and into left field to make it 6-1. Then the last run scored on a wild pitch.
Will Coe relieved North Platte starter Cole Wright in the seventh and retired Norfolk quickly to finish it off.
“That’s how that change always happens, the first pitcher will struggle and the second one will come in and hold down the fort for a few innings,” Butler said. “We got to him late and that’s the best part. We were thrown off for a couple of innings and we were still able to add some runs late.”
In the second game, Norfolk struck again in the first inning. Bates hit one to the pitcher, Butterfield, and Butterfield’s throw home was off. Then it became 2-0 when catcher Gus Kreber made a wild throw to second base.
The Nationals answered back in the second inning. Butterfield bunted one toward third base and Sam Jagels made a wild throw to allow a run. Jeremiah Seamann then followed with a bloop single to right to tie the game.
The score remained tied at 2-2 until the fifth when Norfolk regained the lead. Bates reached on an error by Kuhlmann, the shortstop.
But in the bottom of the fifth, North Platte tied it when Butterfield hit a line drive to right for a triple. Then Butterfield scored on a wild pitch by Dylan Rodgers that spelled the end of the day for Norfolk’s starter.
The Nationals held the lead until Norfolk was down to their last strike. Against Coe, who came in again in the seventh, Jagels hit one to Kuhlmann, whose throw appeared to be on time to get the game-ending out. But it was off just enough to be dropped by Seamann at first and the game was tied.
But with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Jagels, who relieved Rodgers, beaned Kuhlmann to put the winning run on base. Then Janas hit one into the gap in right-center. Kuhlmann hesitated, thinking the ball may be caught for an out and was held at third base.
Jagels got Johnson out to leave it up to Ruffin, who hit a grounder up the middle to get the walk-off hit.
“We had a great hit and run opportunity where Tate put a great ball into the gap and Derrick had a tough read,” Butler said. “Everybody’s cheering and you don’t know if that cheer means, get back to the bag, or to get on. But to have second and third is a great opportunity. Jaylan came through when we needed to the most. He’s been reliable all year and he did his job. You can’t ask for much more than that in the seventh inning.”
North Platte was able to pull it out despite committing five errors.
“We didn’t field great and they canceled them out,” Butler said. “It’s one thing if you give up some errors but if you don’t let them compound into runs and we can always come back. We may have had four or five errors but we didn’t let them get out of hand.”
Next, the Nationals will play a doubleheader at Lexington on Wednesday.