ELKHORN—The RVR Bank Reserves season came down to one half of an inning and the next generation of Fremont baseball players came up clutch.
Alex Kruse delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh of the winner-take-all Class B Reserves state championship game Tuesday night to secure RVR Bank a 10-9 win over Elkhorn South.
“I don’t know how to explain it, these kids are just powerful,” said RVR Bank Reserve coach Camden McKenzie. “They’re never down. We knew that we could score multiple runs in an inning and we were never out of it.
Elkhorn South, who forced the winner-take-all game by knocking off RVR Bank 11-8 in the first game of the day Tuesday, twice erased Post 20 leads with the second rally coming in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 9-9.
JT Anderson set the wheels in motion for RVR Bank’s final comeback of the night, singling on the first pitch he saw to lead-off the bottom of the seventh. An error on the throw to first from the second baseman allowed him to get into scoring position and bring Kruse to the plate.
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Anderson moved up 90 more feet on the first pitch of Kruse’s at-bat by swiping third, putting the championship-winning run a hit away from scoring.
“Just a two-strike approach the whole time, just making sure I could get bat on ball, something to the opposite field and make sure he could score,” Kruse said on his mentality during his at-bat.
Kruse pounced on a 2-1 fast ball and sent a sharp knock to the Elkhorn South second baseman, who fired an off-target strike home in an attempt to gun down the speedy Anderson charging in from third.
Kruse never made it to first base on his hit, turning halfway down the line to bear witness to Anderson sliding safely under the tag of the Elkhorn South catcher before sprinting off towards second base where he was eventually met by a jubilant band of RVR Bank teammates.
“It was two tough games, but we came out on top,” Kruse said.
The opening game of the day was a struggle for RVR Bank as six errors, including one that kept a six-run fourth inning by Elkhorn South alive, hampered the previously unbeaten team in the tournament.
“The focus going in was we wanted to get it done in one and try and get out of here with a state championship in one game,” McKenzie said. “But its baseball, so that’s not how things go. I’m just proud of my kids showing the fight that’ve had all season.”
The opening game loss didn’t dampen the spirits in the RVR Bank dugout.
“We told them we worked too hard to play like that,” McKenzie said. “We reverted to how we were playing earlier in the season. We told them, the team that can catch and throw the baseball the best is going to be the one that wins the tournament.”
McKenzie proved to be prophetic as Fremont halved its errors in game two while Elkhorn South committed seven.
In addition to driving in the game-winning run, Kruse was also called upon as the last arm out of the bullpen to take the start in game two. He came out of the bullpen Sunday in the semifinals to pick up the win over Elkhorn North.
“We were running out of pitching towards the end of this tournament, but he’s been our top reliever all year and he’s a guy I could trust out there to throw strikes and get outs and that’s exactly what he did.
He was perfect through the first three innings before a lead-off walk followed two batters latter by an RBI triple got Elkhorn South on the board.
Kruse tossed six innings while giving up eight hits while striking out five and walking three.
“I knew I needed to come in and help my team win because we were out of pitching,” Kruse said.
Drew Fittje came on in relief after Kruse gave up a pair of singles to begin the seventh inning. Both inherited runners scored—a sacrifice fly bringing in the first and an RBI ground out the second, which tied the game at 9-9.
He preserved the tie with a strikeout, keeping the go-ahead run stranded at second base.
RVR Bank’s biggest offensive inning came in the bottom of the fifth when Post 20 broke out for four runs, breaking a 4-4 stalemate.
Brody Cone, who finished 2-for-3 on the nigh with three RBI, notched the key hit, driving in a pair with a single.
It’s RVR Bank’s first reserve state championship since 2018 after the team finished runner-up in 2021 and 2022. Two players on that last championship team—McKenzie and assistant coach Connor Richmond. The core of the 2018 Reserve team went on to represent Fremont in the Class A state tournament once in the spring and three times in the summer.
McKenzie sees a similar trajectory as a possibility for this batch of Tigers and Knights.
“These kids have a bright future ahead of them and I can’t wait to watch them.”