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STATE BASEBALL

Pitching aces with Division I futures set to headline state baseball tournaments

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Millard West's Jaxson Cahoy (19) pitches to an Elkhorn South batter during an April 1 game in Elkhorn. 

If you’re looking to see top-notch pitching, this is your weekend.

The opening rounds of the state baseball tournament — Class A on Friday; Class B on Saturday — will have stellar pitching matchups from top to bottom. With a day of rest built into the schedule on Sunday, the state’s best pitchers will be on display immediately.

It starts with Class A No. 1 Millard West, which will kick off the tournament action at 10 a.m. Friday against Kearney. The Wildcats have one of the deepest pitching rotations in the state, with returning Super-State pitcher Jaxson Cahoy being joined by Division I commits Dylan Driessen (South Dakota State) and Sam Novotny (Nebraska).

Add in Iowa-bound Drew Deremer and closer Mason Koch, who is committed to Creighton, and it’s clear the Wildcats will lean on their pitching as they try to improve from a runner-up finish in 2021.

“From a starter standpoint, as long as we give our team four or five innings of good baseball then our relief pitchers can get it done,” Novotny said. “I think we’ve learned a lot from last year; the returning guys know that we need a lot of energy in our dugout. When we have that high energy, I really don’t think we can be beat.”

With a 6-0 record and an ERA of 2.97, Novotny has accomplished his goal of consistently giving his team a chance to win. Other Division I-bound pitchers in the Class A bracket include Lincoln East’s Jalen Worthley (San Jose State), Lincoln Southeast’s Max Buettenback (Nebraska), Creighton Prep’s Robert O’Malley (Creighton) and Elkhorn South’s Carter Navin (Kansas). If not for a season-ending injury, Nebraska commit Nate Moquin would be Millard South’s top starter.

The Class B state tournament has its own share of pitching aces ready to light up Werner Park, too.

After Saturday’s tournament opener between Norris and Waverly, the 1 p.m. contest between Central City/Fullerton/Centura and Beatrice promises to be an exciting one. North Dakota State commit Kale Jensen will likely start for the Kernels, while Nebraska commit Tucker Timmerman has been Beatrice’s ace all year long.

Last year, it was senior pitcher Qwin Zabokrtsky who led Beatrice’s charge from No. 8 seed to state champion. This time, it will be Timmerman’s responsibility.

“After last year I kind of knew I had to fill that role as the starting pitcher for big games, and I think I’ve done it pretty well,” Timmerman said. “From watching Qwin I feel like his mental ability on the mound helped me approach it the same way.”

Joining Timmerman as Class B’s Division I pitchers are Elkhorn’s Ben Ayala (Creighton) and Elkhorn North’s Ryan Harrahill (Nebraska). In its second year as a varsity program, Harrahill has been a big reason why the Wolves are headed to their first state tournament.

Harrahill is among the state leaders in strikeouts with 76 in 44⅓ innings of work in addition to an ERA of 0.95. The Wolves' pitching dominance was evident in their district run when Harrahill went seven innings in an opening-round win, followed by sophomore Colin Nowaczyk also throwing a complete game in the district championship.

"Coming out of districts having only thrown two pitchers should give our team a lot of confidence because we’re on a roll right now," Harrahill said.

For the first-time state qualifiers, opening weekend is a great time to soak in the state tournament experience. But, with Harrahill seeking to get Elkhorn North off to a key start in the winners' bracket, that feeling can't last for long.

“We’ll get there and take it all in because it’s a cool experience, but it’s a business trip after that; we’ll have to get to work," he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7437 or at LMullin@journalstar.com. On Twitter @lmullin7

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Husker football/baseball reporter

An Omaha native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, Luke reports on Nebraska football and baseball. Luke is in his fourth year with the Journal Star and previously covered prep sports.

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