PAPILLION — Hastings starter Sam Wibbels was masterful on the mound Wednesday night with his team’s season on the line.
Masterful to the tune of 14 strikeouts while allowing one hit over 5 2/3 innings at Werner Park. When it came time for his offense to match late in the game, the fifth-ranked Tigers came through for their workhorse in a 5-4 win against No. 3 Norris in a Class B state baseball elimination game.
“(Wibbels) has the (Division I) capabilities and he probably has more capabilities than D-1,” Hastings coach Blake Marquardt said. “He has been a blessing to our program and not just because he’s gifted with a good arm. He’s just a leader for us. He’s there early, he’s there late, he picks guys up. He’s just an all-around good kid. You couldn’t be more excited for his success when he comes out and pitches the way he did tonight.”
The Tigers scored two in the bottom of the fifth to draw even with the Titans 2-2 before they once again fell behind 3-2 in the top of the sixth on a Wibbels wild pitch. In true pick-me-up fashion, Hastings' bats came alive in the bottom of the sixth with three runs to rally past the Titans.
Norris picked up a run in the seventh, but it wasn’t enough as Hastings advanced to the Class B state title game against No. 2 Bennington.
The Titans picked up runs in the first and the second as Wibbels struggled to find the strike zone despite striking out four. After the early runs, Wibbels settled in and was virtually untouchable until giving up his lone hit to Cade Argo in the fifth.
Normally a pitching performance like Wibbels’ would be more than enough to carry a team in a tournament, but Norris starter Tyler Monroe was also lights out on Wednesday night. The junior shut down the Hastings bats over 4 2/3 innings, but the Tigers finally got to him in the bottom of the fifth with two runs to tie the game.
The late rally spurred the Tigers on to rally in the bottom of the sixth and, after holding the Titans to one run in the seventh, they were through to the state title game.
“These guys work hard and they’re truly passionate about what they do,” Marquardt said. “For the school, the community, the kids, they’ve all put a lot of effort into it. That kind of effort pays off in the long run.”
Hastings will meet Bennington at 10 a.m. Thursday morning for the championship. If the Tigers win, they’ll need to beat the Badgers again to claim the title.
The loss ended the season for the Titans.
“I couldn’t be more more proud of this group,” Norris coach Sean Bartholomew said. “Battling back all year long, it’s a trait we hang our hat on. Guys that don’t give up and are competitors. Just really proud of this group. The seniors especially.”