The NSAA State High School Baseball Tournament is one of the major events we cover each year on LincolnPrepSports.com and this year will stand out as one of the more exciting post-seasons we've covered in our 14-year existence.
In that span, we've covered five state baseball championships, which were either won by Lincoln Pius X or Norris. Lincoln Northeast was the only LPS school to play for a state title during that time. Lincoln Southwest has played in at least two "play-in" games of the championship round.
All had their own unique excitement within the storyline.
But Thursday afternoon's Class B championship with Norris and Omaha Roncalli may have taken the cake when it comes to drama.
Norris had a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Titans committed three errors on two straight plays that put two Roncalli runs across the plate. An RBI single from Noah Rheinheimer gave the Crimson Pride another run to tie the game.
Norris then regained the lead in the sixth, after an error by Roncalli shortstop Max Anderson scored Cade Kohout. The Titans, though, unable to score the rest of the inning managed to force Roncalli to go three up, three down in the bottom half of the inning.
The drama continued to build.
In the Norris half of the seventh, the Titans got a two-out walk from Sayre Burnley. His courtesy runner, Tyler Monroe, advanced to second on a single from Zach Argo. Kohout then belted a single to right field allowed Monroe to take the turn at third and head home.
Roncalli's Justin Niederle fired a throw home to Rheinheimer, who applied the tag that got Monroe out at the plate for the third out.
Needless to say, Roncalli somehow found some lost momentum from the fifth inning.
Norris led 4-3 entering the final half of the seventh and three outs away from wrapping up what could have been their second state title in five years.
Right-hander Cullen Papenhagen had gone into the seventh by striking out five Roncalli hitters. With mounting pressure, Papenhagen forced Niederle to lead off the inning by flying out to Kohout in centerfield.
But Alex Rodgers (single), Anderson and Alitz (each walked) all got on base, forcing Norris to pull Papenhagen and bringing in sophomore right-hander Colbey Behrends to finish out the game.
With the bases loaded, it set up the potential game winning situation for Rheinheimer. However, he hit a ground ball to first, where Norris' Joel Benes threw to Burnley at home for the force out, allowing the fielder's choice.
While Norris felt somewhat "at ease" with the second out and the possibility of a game winning third out looming, Roncalli seemed just as confident with Logan McGill coming to bat.
While he grounded out twice and reached on a fielder's choice earlier in the game, McGill found himself battling against Behrends.
The pitch count was at 2-2, when Behrends delivered a toss that just missed the outside corner of the strike zone----that could have sent the Norris faithful into a frenzy.
When Behrends delivered the payoff pitch, McGill sent a liner down the leftfield side that scored Anderson and Alitz to give Roncalli their second state baseball title and first championship in the sport since 1981.
It was a perfect ending to an absolute outstanding performance between both teams. It's the perfect scenario for a broadcaster or journalist to describe and write about for people to listen and read.
I'm fortunate to have been part of that experience. It was the perfect set up to what title games are supposed to be.
This game will forever be talked about by those who were there to see it first hand, or listened to it on LincolnPrepSports.com.
To the Norris players and coaches, you demonstrated just how competitive and tough you were all season. A lot of great talent, who also proved to be among the best hitting teams in the state. While you may have come up just short, you still proved you were one of Nebraska's best throughout the season.
To Omaha Roncalli, congratulations on your gutty performance and perseverance while on your way to championship gold. Some of us thought you were solid through the season, but you proved just how tough and competitive you were in the state tournament. It paid off.
To the nearly 200 fans who listened to the championship game and the play-in game with Norris and Hastings beforehand, thank you for staying with us and hearing all of the excitement. I hope it was entertaining and my description of the action was clear and concise.
All inhale, then exhale.
A week off from games and it's back on for Legion ball!