Sidelined early in the season by a sore shoulder, Lincoln Southeast’s Noah Kulhanek is making up for lost time.
The junior pitcher struck out 13 and belted a two-run homer Friday night as the Knights defeated Omaha Skutt 3-1 in the final of the Ralston/Curt Shockey tournament. Class A Southeast moved to 16-8, while the Class B SkyHawks fell to 14-9.
Kulhanek threw 110 pitches. He struck out the side twice, including an escape in the sixth inning when Skutt had runners on second and third with nobody out.
“I don’t like that his pitch count was that high because we’ve been bringing him back slowly,” Knights coach Doug Miller said. “He’s just a battler, and he went after them.”
Kulhanek pounded the strike zone most of the night against the SkyHawks, who didn’t have more than one hit in any inning.
“Getting ahead in the count is what I focused on,” the pitcher said. “And my defense did a good job behind me.”
Kulhanek pitched out of trouble in the bottom of the first when Skutt’s Mojo Hagge led off with a double. But two strikeouts and an infield groundout got him out of the jam.
He had seven strikeouts through three shutout innings, but he was matched by Connor Schwetschenau. The Skutt junior retired the first nine Southeast batters before Brock Olson led off the fourth inning with an infield single.
Olson moved to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball. He scored the game’s first run on an infield out by Caleb Calafiore.
The score stayed 1-0 until Skutt tied it in the fifth. Ethan Hall singled and eventually scored on an infield error by second baseman Brett Sheppard.
The Knights went ahead for good in the sixth with the help of Sheppard, who atoned for his error with a one-out single. After Olson struck out, Kulhanek drilled his home run over the right-field fence.
It’s 310 feet down the line at Orval Smith Field, and Kulhanek said he was happy the dimensions of the park aren’t any bigger.
“I think it went about 311 feet,” he said. “I didn’t think it had a chance to get out.”
Kulhanek then made that lead stand up in the bottom of the inning, but it wasn’t easy. Drew Kelly led off with a single, Ryan Moritz walked and both runners moved up on a wild pitch.
But the pitcher bore down and struck out Kyle O’Neill, Luke Pavel and Brandon Anderson to retire the side.
“I definitely thought about taking him out at that point,” Miller said. “But he just kept getting the strikeouts.”
Skutt had one final chance in the seventh when Jarrett Damewood led off with a single to left. But Kulhanek got the next two batters and then retired the dangerous Hagge, who had a pair of doubles, on a long flyout to center to end the game.
“We knew going in that he was a tough pitcher,” SkyHawks coach Shawn Exner said. “He beat us 1-0 last year, so hats off to him.”
Lincoln Southeast (16-8) ...................................... 000 102 0—3 5 1
Omaha Skutt (14-9) .............................................. 000 010 0—1 6 0
W: Kulhanek. L: Schwetschenau. 2B: OS, Hagge 2; LSE, Calafiore. HR: LSE, Kulhanek.
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