By Dale Miller
Saying that Home Federal’s offense struggled during Wednesday’s Cornhusker League doubleheader against Columbus would be an understatement.
The Grand Island seniors managed a total of three hits over 15 innings and were swept at Ryder Park 3-0 and 3-1 in eight innings.
“We’ve got to do some things the right way and maybe the ball will start finding the barrel a little bit better,” Home Federal coach Jake Ritzdorf said.
Columbus pitchers Brent Beard, Tyler Wessel and Trey Kobza combined on a 1-hitter in the opener, but Home Federal (5-10) had its chances.
Home Federal stranded 10 baserunners after receiving six walks and three errors. The lone hit was Carson Cahoy’s single with one out in the top of the first inning.
“In the first game, we had guys in scoring position six out of the seven innings,” Ritzdorf said. “Somebody’s got to step up and get the big hit when we need it.”
Rans Sanders took the loss while allowing six hits with two strikeouts and one walk in a complete-game performance.
Javy Cruz gave Home Federal another strong performance in the second game but also came away with a loss. He went seven-plus innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits with five strikeouts and four walks.
“Rans pitched a great game and Javy pitched just as well,” Ritzdorf said. “Both of them deserved wins. We just couldn’t get any runs for them.”
Columbus’ CJ Fleeman only needed 79 pitches to get through the extra-inning contest. He allowed two hits and struck out three with no walks.
Fleeman had a no-hitter going until Jay Gustafson doubled to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Columbus scored the game’s first run on Eric Mustard’s RBI single to left with two outs in the top of the seventh.
Home Federal answered in the bottom of the frame. Blake Leiting led off with a check-swing infield single and moved to second on Ryan Melvin’s bunt.
With two outs, Kyle Sextro’s grounder to the first baseman was mishandled on the throw to Fleeman covering the bag, and Leiting was able to score from second.
“It’s a big run and extends the game,” Ritzdorf said. “Unfortunately they go and get two in the eighth inning and we don’t have a chance to win it.
“It shouldn’t have come down to that last inning.”
Cruz’s night ended after Derek Smejkal reached on an error to lead off the top of the eighth. He scored the game-winner when Evan Bock also was safe on an error, and Colby Gilson’s RBI single added an insurance run.
Brenden Mendez reached on an error to lead off the bottom of the eighth, but Home Federal couldn’t advance him any farther.
Ritzdorf said it has been a learning process for Home Federal over the first two weeks of the season.
“We’re growing,” he said. “We’re learning some things that we can and can’t do. Again, we’re going to have our ups and downs but hopefully by the end of the year we’re where we need to be.”