LINCOLN — Through most of the season, the Omaha Gross baseball team couldn't hit, couldn't pitch and couldn't execute.
But Gross, which went 9-7 in the regular season and was outscored 68-8 in its losses, is one of the final three teams still alive for a Class B state title.
Gross pounded out 13 hits and had baserunners in every inning of a 6-3 win over Omaha Skutt at Sherman Field on Wednesday night. The win moves the Cougars into a 10 a.m. game Thursday against top-seeded Norris at Haymarket Park. The winner of that contest will face Lincoln Pius X for the state championship at 1 p.m.
“I said, 'We've got to show our pride,' and we've shown it the last two days,” Gross coach Mike Filipowicz said. “I'm proud of these Cougars. They showed the pride this program has been built on.”
Right fielder Zach Knicky who went 4 for 4 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored against Skutt, offered the best explanation for the Cougars' unexpected turnaround.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” Knicky said. “Confidence in all of us. Confidence in the team. Knowing that we can compete here once we get down here. All you've got to do is get down here, then it's anyone's game.”
Knicky, who said he felt like he was swinging at a “beach ball” Wednesday, was part of Gross' biggest inning.
After Skutt tied the game 3-3 with a run in the top half of the fifth, Cragin Missak led off the bottom of the inning with a double. Knicky followed with an RBI triple, and Joe Coenen drove him home with a single one batter later to chase Skutt pitcher Aaron Warneke. After a walk and an error, Max Connor singled in Coenen to put Gross up 6-3.
“We knew this kid (Warneke) was using a lot of off-speed early in the count, so that's what we were looking for,” Knicky said. “Sitting back and hitting those off-speed pitches because that's what he was working. So we just sat back and were driving the ball.”
After Gross took a 2-0 lead in the first, Skutt tied the game in the top of the third with three hits and a walk. Spencer Meduna drove in Jacob Barton with an RBI single, and Shea Patterson's single scored Ty O'Brien from second base on a bang-bang play at home plate. Trevor Nollet, the Gross left fielder, made a strong throw that beat O'Brien to the plate, but the umpire ruled O'Brien got his hand underneath the tag of Gross catcher Andrew McElmeel.
While Knicky led the Cougars' redemption at the plate, senior pitcher Ben Peters made the most of his second chance on the mound. Peters got the start against Pius on Monday and didn't make it out of the second inning. But Filipowicz called on Peters in the third inning to relieve Coenen, and Peters allowed one run over the final 4 2⁄3 innings to get the win.
“Coach gave me another shot and said 'Just compete,' ” Peters said. “So that's what I tried to do. I just threw strikes and let the guys behind me make plays, and it worked out.”
The loss was the second in as many days for Skutt. Patterson was 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs for the SkyHawks.
“For us to end up as the No. 4 seed at state, we won our district, I thought it was a great year,” Skutt coach Shawn Exner said. “Obviously the end result wasn't what we wanted, but as a group, they were pretty good.”
Omaha Skutt (16-8) ........... 002 010 0—3 9 2
Omaha Gross (12-8) ......... 201 030 x—6 13 0
W: Ben Peters. L: Aaron Warneke, 3B: OS, Vanlandingham, OG, Knicky; 2B: OS, Barton, Patterson, OG, Coenen, Missak