While one Nebraska team will bring recent experience to the American Legion regional tournament, the other will be breaking relatively new ground.
KB Building Services (Omaha Westside) will be making its first appearance since 2009 when it competes in the Central Plains Regional on Thursday in Fargo, N.D. Meanwhile, PI Midwest (Omaha Creighton Prep) will be making its third consecutive trip and fifth since 2006.
“The fact we haven't been in a while makes it even more exciting for our guys,” KB coach Bob Greco said. “Getting to the regional was our biggest goal this summer, and we were able to get that done.”
The team from Westside had a solid summer after capturing the Class A varsity title in the spring. KB went 41-11 and finished as the state runner-up, losing to PI Midwest 8-2 in the championship last Saturday.
Greco's squad faced an uphill battle in that final after two rainout days pushed the American Division final to Friday night. PI Midwest won the National Division last Wednesday, giving the team from Prep two days of added rest.
“That's just the way things played out,” Greco said. “Our entire focus now is on the regional and playing as well as we possibly can.”
The longtime rivals will have a chance to bond before the tournament, sharing a bus on the eight-hour trip north on Interstate 29.
“That will be a little different for us, but it's no problem,” Greco said. “A lot of the guys have known each other since back in little league, so I don't foresee any problems.”
KB will play its first tourney game at 10 a.m. Thursday against Carroll County, the Iowa champion.
If both Nebraska teams win or both lose on the opening day, they would play in the tournament's second round Friday — a rematch of the state championship game from six days earlier.
“I've learned over the years that you're competing against the game, not the opponent,” Greco said. “If you focus on revenge or emotional factors like that, then your mindset is going to be up, down, up, down every single game.”
KB fielded a young team this summer that featured most of the same players from the spring. Two seniors started for Greco's squad in the spring, and one didn't play during the Legion season.
“It helps if you have players who have a real passion for the game,” the coach said. “And we definitely have that this year.”
KB's biggest strength is its pitching, and that will play a major role in determining how far this team goes in the postseason. Leading the way are Jake Meyers (10-0), Matt Waldron (7-1), Mike Waldron (5-0), Luke Biggs (5-1) and Brock Nemecek (7-2). Meyers leads the staff with 105 strikeouts while Matt Waldron has the lowest ERA at 1.17.
Offensively, KB can rely on several solid hitters. Speedy outfielder Devin Stueck leads the team with a .409 average, but six other regulars — Meyers, Drew Fitzmorris, Will Patterson, Will Frei, Biggs and Mike Waldron — are batting better than .300.
Greco said one key to his squad's summer success has been its improvement on defense.
“Our pitching and hitting carried us in the spring,” the coach said. “But we've put it all together this summer.”
Greco added that his team doesn't seem overwhelmed by its upcoming regional appearance and will be ready for the tournament opener Thursday.
“We'll have our work cut out for us,” he said. “But the guys are excited to just go out and play.”