When asked if his team would be excited to play a 9 a.m. Class B Junior Legion State Tournament game Sunday, Arlington Post 71 catcher Braden Monke cracked a smile.
“It's a little early,” he said. “But we'll be fine.”
Sure enough, the Eagles were. They bounced back from a 5-0 loss to Waverly in Saturday's first round, besting Broken Bow 5-4 less than 24 hours later. The win moved Arlington into a Monday afternoon elimination game against Blair, which coach Rusty Hilgenkamp's team lost 4-1.
In the end, Post 71 ended its successful season with a 1-2 showing at the state tournament.
“We just told them they exceeded our expectations,” the coach said.
Arlington's staff — Tyler Stender, Ed Meking, Andy Theiler and Hilgenkamp — thought the summer campaign would benefit team development overall, but the championship-level progression even caught them off guard.
“We had umpires telling us how much they've improved since the spring and everything,” Hilgenkamp said. “They've done a really good job and and we're proud of that.”
The Eagles built a 5-0 lead Sunday against Broken Bow through four innings. They tallied two runs during the third frame and three more in the fourth. The opposition notched three runs in the fifth and another in the sixth, but couldn't pull even with coach Stender's squad.
Nick Smith led Arlington with two RBIs, while Monke notched two hits. Dustin Kirk notched the pitching win with 12 strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings.
Then, in its final game of the season, Arlington lost to its Washington County neighbor, Blair. The Bears scored three first-inning runs and held the Eagles off from there.
Blaine Vogt, who led Post 71 with two hits, singled during the second inning to push across his team's lone run. Pittman scored on a play at the plate where he snuck in under Joe Rodriguez's tag to pull the Eagles within 3-1.
Blair added an insurance run in the sixth inning and finished off the Eagles during the seventh. Arlington earned two base runners in the final frame — Vogt and Trevor Denker — but couldn't push them across the plate before the end of the elimination game.
The loss was a disappointment, but it couldn't damper the Eagles' expectations for the future.
“They're a group that's continuing to improve and needs to keep improving, obviously,” Hilgenkamp said. “But, no, they did a really good job.”