STATE CHAMPIONS -- Wayne Juniors claim first Class B title since 1966
The last time the Wayne American Legion Post 43 Juniors (then Midgets) won a state championship, the world was a much different place:
— Gas was 32 cents a gallon.
— A new car cost around $2,600.
— You could buy a house for just over $14,000.
— Batman and Star Trek were TV shows.
— The first Super Bowl had not yet been played.
The year was 1966, and 52 years later, the younger Post 43 team finally has its third state championship after an exciting, come-from-behind 10-7 win over Hickman in the finals of the Nebraska American Legion Class B Juniors state tournament Thursday in Columbus’ Pawnee Park.
It was a win more than a half-century in the making and one that left the players happily exhausted as they dogpiled along the first-base line after Josh Lutt’s final strikeout ended the tournament.
“It’s fantastic,” Lutt said after the win. “Only a few teams get to experience this and it’s just unreal.”
It was a win that capped quite the amazing week for co-coach Adam Hoffman, who missed two games while he and his wife, Ashley, welcomed their first baby into the world. Co-coach Tegan Nissen took care of things in the meantime, and Hoffman returned for the final two games as Wayne won its last nine games following an opening-round loss in the Area 5 tournament two weeks earlier.
And while nothing beats being a dad for the first time — winning your first state title as a coach and the program’s first in more than 50 years has to come a close second.
“They’re all just awesome,” he said after the game. “Being a first-time dad and then winning a state championship, you just can’t dream that stuff up and it’s going to take a while for it to sink in.”
It took a while for Wayne’s bats to get going after Hickman staked themselves to a 4-1 lead after three innings off starter Jacob Kneifl.
Kneifl settled down and Wayne came back with three in the fourth to tie the game at 4-4. Two walks and an error loaded the bases, and Blake Bartos drew a walk to score Trevor DeBoer. Two Hickman errors brought two more runs home to tie the game.
Both teams scored in the fifth to keep it tied, but Hickman’s defense and pitching came unraveled in the sixth inning.
Wayne took advantage of three Hickman errors to post the turnaround inning, and Kneifl had a bases-clearing double to key the five-run rally.
“I was down in the count and he hung a curve ball and I got just enough of the bat on it and it was a lucky hit,” the lefthander said.
Kneifl pitched 4 1/3 innings before Lutt came on in relief and got Wayne out of a jam in the fifth. After Wayne’s big inning, Hickman scored twice and had the tying run at the plate before Lutt was able to induce a ground ball to Hagan Miller, who threw to DeBoer to end the rally. Lutt pitched a spotless seventh, getting a strikeout to secure Wayne’s championship.
“It was another gutsy performance all the way around,” Hoffman said of his hurling duo. “Jake got 4 1/3 innings for us and then Josh came in and threw strikes and our defense made plays.”
Wayne ran the table after starting postseason play with a loss in the Area 5 tournament. They won four games to qualify for state, then were a perfect 5-0 to finish off a fantastic 24-4 campaign as state champions.
“It’s these kids,” Hoffman said after the game. “They’re so coachable and respectful and they listen and do things right, and that’s why they got rewarded for this. These kids are just awesome and I can’t be any more proud of them.”