The ability of a team to reach the state baseball tournament for the first time in almost 50 years might catch many by surprise.
Not so Omaha North coach Mike Greene-Walsh.
“I had a pretty good feeling about this team at the start of the season,” he said. “And even with the bad weather we’ve had, we’ve played pretty solid ball all spring.”
North will return to the tournament for the first time since 1964 when the Vikings play Omaha Westside in a first-round game Saturday at 4 p.m. at Werner Park. North went 12-5 and grabbed one of the two available Class A wild cards.
Greene-Walsh said this year’s state tournament berth has been in the works for four years, since his seniors were freshmen.
“When they first came in, I thought our team might do something special in the future,” the coach said. “They proved me right.”
Earning a trip to state hits home with Greene-Walsh, a 1998 North grad who also played baseball for the Vikings. He’s in his sixth season as head coach and 10th at the school.
The coach said a respectable season last year — North finished 9-15 — helped pave the way for this year’s success.
“We actually talked last year about how long it had been since the school had gone to the state tournament,” he said. “I could see the confidence building even though we all knew it would be a big challenge.”
The return of several senior starters was a major reason for optimism in 2013. That group includes Conner Phillips, Casey Sayles, Chase Nuzum, Zach Martin, Zach Nielsen, Brendan Jensen, Chaz Cox, DJ Toft, Doug Rowen and Nick Dorner.
Returning junior starters Dustin Agnew and Cameron Wagner also have contributed this season.
Nielsen, who pitches and plays infield, said reaching state has been a seasonlong goal.
“To be able to get there shows we really have a special group this year,” he said. “We worked hard in the offseason, and I think that paid off.”
As one of several baseball-playing Vikings who also played on the football team that finished as the Class A runner-up last fall, Nielsen said that gridiron experience has paid off.
“That showed us the work ethic we needed to get to the next level,” he said. “What we went through on the football field has definitely helped us in baseball.”
Greene-Walsh said one of his biggest tasks this season has been keeping his team mentally focused. Four of the Vikings’ first five games were rained out, and they went through a stretch in April with no games for 18 straight days following six more postponements.
“We got really good at playing wiffle ball in the gym over those three weeks,” he said. “Just to break things up and have a little fun, we went out and practiced in the snow one day.”
That long layoff didn’t hurt North, as it won seven of its last nine games. The Vikings defeated Lincoln East in the district tournament semifinal before losing to host Millard West in the final.
After Greene-Walsh saw how the other districts were playing out, he knew the Vikings would be headed to state. He put the word out on his Facebook page and has since heard from many former Vikings players, including his own ex-teammates.
“It’s exciting to achieve this goal,” he said. “But we need to make sure that we’re not just content with reaching state. We want to make some noise when we get there.”
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