It has been a wild ride this season for Elkhorn coach Kyle McCright.
But bottom line: His Antlers, despite a 3-10 start, are headed back to the Class B state tournament that begins Saturday at Werner Park.
“To be honest, I definitely had my doubts early on,” he said. “But the boys really worked hard to get this thing turned around.”
State probably seemed like a pipe dream after the Antlers lost their first five games, giving up 55 runs. It got slightly better as Elkhorn went 3-5 its next eight.
Then something clicked and the Antlers started to turn it around, posting three wins over tough opponents who eventually reached state — Omaha Westside, Waverly and Norris.
“Those wins were big for us, but especially the game against Norris,” McCright said. “We felt that if we could beat a team like that, we could beat anybody.”
The Antlers won six of their last nine regular-season games and headed to the B-3 district as the No. 2 seed. After Elkhorn defeated Thurston-Cuming County in the first round, the Antlers took on Platteview.
Elkhorn was cruising with a 7-0 lead with two out in the seventh inning behind 15 strikeouts from Chase Smith. That’s when odd things started to happen.
The Trojans fought back after Smith had to leave the game because of pitch-count rules. Platteview scored eight to grab an 8-7 lead heading to the bottom of the seventh.
“We’re watching and can’t believe what’s happening,” McCright said. “We’re one out away and all of a sudden we’re behind.”
The Antlers tried to fight back, but it looked bleak when the tying run was thrown out at the plate for the second out. But with runners at the corners, Cooper Fedde doubled to drive in a pair and give Elkhorn an improbable 9-8 win.
“We were dead in the water,” McCright said. “But our guys never gave up on each other.”
The Antlers received an added bonus when top-seeded Central City/Fullerton/Centura lost to Hastings in the other district semifinal. As the highest remaining seed, Elkhorn hosted the Tigers.
McCright’s squad captured that final Monday night with a 6-1 win to earn its eighth straight tourney berth and 15th overall.
Elkhorn will open the tournament at 7 p.m. Saturday against Omaha Skutt. The second-ranked SkyHawks blasted the Antlers 15-4 in the season opener March 17.
“We’re a different team now,” McCright said. “And we’re very excited to get the opportunity for a state title.
“I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Hopefully, we can go a little farther.”
Photos: All-Nebraska baseball teams through the years
Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.