Gothenburg’s Junior Melons went into tourney action July 16 at the American Legion Baseball park in Gothenburg, drawing Holdrege in the first round of the single-elimination bracket.
While Holdrege got on the board early, the Melons answered back and ultimately held the lead until late in the game when the visitors put up five runs in the sixth inning, handing the Melons a 10-7 loss to end their season.
“It was a heartbreaker,” said Junior Melons coach Jake Fecht.
Gothenburg’s offense got heated up in the bottom of the second inning when Bronson Long singled on a ground ball to left-center. Bennett Geiken sent a line-drive to right field and Tra Rossell reached first base on an error, loading the bases for Bailey Ryker, who scored two on a hard drive to center. Rossell scored on an error by the second baseman and the inning rested with a 3-1 Melon lead.
Holdrege plated a run in the top of the third frame, but the Melons weren’t done.
Jake Kozeal led off the bottom of the third for the home team with a line drive to center field. Riley Baker reached first after he was hit by a pitch. Maddox Rickertsen hit a ground-ball single, advancing Kozeal and Baker to scoring position. The fourth Melon run came on a brilliantly executed suicide squeeze by J.J. Smith, bringing Kozeal home.
“We have been fairly aggressive on the bases all year,” Fecht said. “We have good team speed.”
Holdrege plated runs in the top of the fourth and the top of the fifth to take a 5-4 lead, but the Melons answered in the bottom of the fifth with more offensive firepower.
Kozeal got things going again with a line-drive single to center field and stole second. Baker reached on an error. Kozeal took third base on the same play. Rickertsen grounded out to short, but brought Kozeal home on the play. The Melons turned to an old favorite once again when Long bunted, scoring Baker on the suicide play, giving Gothenburg the 6-5 edge.
Things took a turn in Holdrege’s favor in the top of the sixth inning.
“I thought we hit the ball pretty well, just right to them,” Fecht said. “And they hit the ball in the gaps a couple of times and that cost us a few runs. Again, we had good pitching and made minimal errors.”
Rickertsen took the ball on the mound in relief after Long walked the first two batters. While there was only one hit surrendered in that half of the inning, four walks were issued and a solid line drive led to five runs being plated in the inning, giving Holdrege a firm 10-6 lead.
Things were quiet again until the bottom of the seventh inning when Wes Geiken singled on a line drive to center field and stole second. A Kozeal ground-out sent Geiken to third. Baker came to the plate and hit a long fly ball to right field, tallying an RBI on the long out. A fly-out by Rickertsen ended the game.
Long took the loss for the Melons on the mound, giving up seven runs on six hits and striking out two in his five innings of work. Rickertsen allowed three runs on one hit and struck out three in relief.
Ryker led the way with two RBIs and Kozeal had two hits to help the Melon offense.
The Junior Melons ended their season with a 5-4 record and Fecht said he was proud of the way the team played on a shortened schedule.
“Obviously everybody wants to win all the games, but I thought we did a very good job all season long with being in every game,” Fecht said as he reflected on the season.
“We improved dramatically at the plate from last year to this year, and we had very strong pitching all year. Our defense was fairly good, as well, we are looking forward to improving in every aspect. “