Despite having one graduated senior, coach Jake Hoover was optimistic heading into the American Legion season.
That faith was rewarded as the squad from Omaha Roncalli earned a spot in the Class B Legion state tournament that begins Saturday in Alliance.
“I thought we had the ability to make it,” Hoover said. “We’ve only got one senior but a really good group of juniors.”
Hoover’s squad carries the name of its new sponsor — Mainelli Mechanical — across the state and into the eight-team tournament.
The coach said reaching the Legion state tournament was a positive after failing to reach state in the spring. The varsity squad went 10-12, losing to Omaha Concordia in districts.
“We just weren’t able to finish some of those games in the spring,” Hoover said. “But we found a way to win the close ones this summer.”
Mainelli Mechanical qualified for state by winning the Area 2 tournament that included Legion state tourney regular Waverly. On the final day of area play, Waverly defeated the team from Roncalli 3-2 before Mainelli Mechanical won the late game 9-6 to claim the title.
“We had our chances to win that first one,” Hoover said. “But the guys didn’t panic in that second game, got off to a good start and then held on.”
Tommy Alitz got the win in the final. He is one of the team’s top pitchers with a 4-2 record and 3.10 ERA.
“Tommy gave us five innings and did a great job,” Hoover said. “He’s done it all summer for us and we really needed him in that game.”
Other top pitchers are Creighton Silvain (7-1, 2.71) and Nate Gorczyca (4-3, 3.85). Silvain has struck out 68 this season while Gorczyca threw a late-season no-hitter.
Alex Rodgers, who had two hits in the area tournament final, leads the team in hitting at .395. Alitz is batting .346 while Tyler Kloewer, the only senior, is hitting .312.
Hoover, whose assistants include his brother Josh and local coaching legend Bill Olson, said he is familiar with about half the teams in the state tourney field.
“I can’t say I know a lot about the teams from the western part of the state,” he said. “But it’s exciting to make the tournament and we’re ready to give it our best shot.”