Fremont’s 73-year wait for an American Legion state championship is finally over.
Its Legion team, First State Bank, defeated Gretna Post 211 9-3 Saturday to capture the title for the first time since 1946. The team won the best-of-three series 2-1 and will advance to regional play starting Wednesday in Hastings.
“This is a humongous deal for us,” coach Jeff Hayden said. “That championship banner will be in our ballpark forever.”
Fremont won Game 1 of the series 8-0 on Friday night but lost Game 2 against the host Dragons 7-4 earlier on Saturday. That forced a decisive Game 3, and Fremont quickly regained the momentum.
Hayden’s squad struck for three first-inning runs and never trailed. The coach said it was exactly the start his squad needed after the setback.
“It was huge to get our confidence back,” he said. “Those early innings were so important.”
Austin Callahan, Dillon Dix and Nick Herink each had RBIs in that first inning. The three-run cushion also was a welcome sight to Fremont starter Eli Herink, who has pitched a limited number of innings this summer.
“After we lost, we came to the realization that we had to focus,” Herink said. “I knew I had a challenge ahead of me, but I felt I was ready for it.”
Herink held Gretna scoreless for four innings while Fremont tacked on two more runs. The pitcher had a run-producing sacrifice fly in the second, and Donnie Mueller belted a solo homer in the fourth — his first of the season.
“It felt good when I hit it, but I wasn’t expecting it to go out,” he said. “I was just happy that I was able to contribute.”
Gretna broke through in the fifth with a pair of runs to make it 5-2 but left the bases loaded when Coby Hardies flied out to center.
After Fremont scored a run in the bottom of the fifth, Zach Wiese hit a solo homer for Gretna in the top of the sixth. But Fremont put the game away with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Brady Benson took over in the seventh for reliever Brennan Callahan and finished off the win, getting a forceout at second to end it.
The players enjoyed the ceremonial dogpile as Fremont fans stood and cheered the end of a state tournament drought that had extended to the Truman administration.
“It feels amazing to get this done,” Eli Herink said. “We set the bar high for the kids who were watching us today, and now they’ve got something to shoot for.”
Gretna coach Bryan O’Flynn said it was a tough way to end the season, but added his players could still hold their heads high.
“We wish we were going to regionals,” he said. “We still had a great season, and I’m proud of our guys for exceeding expectations.”
Gretna (31-18)..........000 021 0—3 9 2
Fremont (33-9)..........310 113 x—9 9 1
W: E. Herink. 2B: F, A. Callahan. 3B: F, A. Callahan. HR: G, Wiese.
Gretna 7, Fremont 4
Joe Weis pitched six strong innings to keep the Dragons alive in the best-of-three series.
He allowed two runs and five hits while striking out four. Reliever Evan Beran came on to pitch the seventh.
A two-run homer by Nebraska recruit Quinn Mason helped lead the Dragons to victory. Mason also walked twice and scored three runs.
Bryant Jeary had a pair of RBIs for Gretna with a run-scoring single and a sacrifice fly.
Fremont threatened in the seventh, scoring twice and bringing the winning run to the plate. But Beran got a strikeout and a groundout to clinch the victory.
Gretna (31-17)............013 030 0—7 7 1
Fremont (32-9)............000 110 2—4 6 1
W: Weis. L: D. Glause. S: Beran. HR: G, Mason.