Kimball/White Lake storms to first-round victory at state amateur tournament
Nationals move to the second round for the first time since 2016
A fast offensive start and strong pitching from Zak Wallner carried Kimball/White Lake to its first Class B state amateur baseball tournament win since 2016 on Saturday at Cadwell Park, as the Nationals flew past Elk Point for an 8-1 victory.
The Nationals were able to mount an 8-0 lead after two innings, including six runs in the second, to build an insurmountable lead. It was the product of good approaches at the plate, KWL manager Wes Kroupa said.
“We had five walks early on and that showed a lot,” Kroupa said. “1-through-9 (in the lineup), we had a lot of really good at-bats.”
Wallner started off hot, recording five strikeouts in the first three innings, but then settled in with his defense behind him, allowing only five hits on 103 pitches in the complete-game effort. He allowed just two baserunners over the final six innings, as well.
“(Zak’s) capable of getting a lot of strikeouts, but we know every out the defense gets for him is a big bonus,” Kroupa said. “He pitched well and the defense did a nice job of helping him out.”
The fast start for KWL meant an early end for Elk Point starter Cameron Lahndorf, who allowed five hits, seven runs and walked five in 1 1/3 innings. Jon Merrigan answered the bell in relief for the 45’s, posting 7 1/3 innings with only one run allowed and yielding seven hits. Merrigan benefitted by getting ahead of KWL hitters, throwing 25 first-pitch strikes in 31 opportunities.
“He did a great job against us, getting us off-balance and we had a lot of popups,” Kroupa said of Merrigan. “So having that lead helped us there.”
From the fifth inning on, the offense was hard to come by for both teams. Merrigan limited the Nationals to just four hits and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced. Wallner did the same against the 45’s, sealing Elk Point’s fate.
The Nationals were lifted by three RBIs from Gaulke. Wallner had two hits, as did Dylan Konechne and Wessington Springs’ pick-up player Armondo Rodriguez. Wallner and Trent Wookey each scored two runs.
On offense, Preston Fejfar had two hits for Elk Point, with Derek Quame bringing across the only Elk Point run in the fifth inning, with a deep double to left field, scoring Garretson pick-up player Dustin Steckler.
Kroupa said getting a first-round tournament win is a big deal for the Nationals, who have had a strong season and are in the tournament for the third straight year. They’ll face the Redfield Pheasants at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“It’s huge. The first goal is always getting here, and we know that’s never easy,” Kroupa said. “Now we’re in the last 16, and that’s a great thing. We’re going to have a chance to play again on Wednesday night and see where we stand.”