It was opening day of baseball for the Major League teams and Thursday afternoon the Western Nebraska Community College and Northeastern Junior College baseball teams hooked up for an Empire Conference doubleheader at Cleveland Field.

                The first game saw NJC build a 5-2 lead before WNCC tied the game, forcing extra innings. In the eighth inning, Jake Jackson hit a walk-off home run to give the Cougars the 6-5 lead.

                The second game saw NJC score four, sixth-inning runs to give the Plainsmen the 8-6 win.

                The Cougars will be back in action with Empire Conference games Saturday and Sunday when they travel to Lamar Community College.

                WNCC coach Mike Jones said his team played well in two competitive games.

                “We are playing better. I think on offense we fought for our at bats way better. They are a lot more confident now than just a week ago,” Jones said. “I thought the pitching did a really good job of keeping us in the game and we played good defense. We came out with a win and one loss and I think we definitely played way better.”

                The first-game walk-off home run by Jackson was huge as the Cougars got strong pitching and then the extra-inning dramatic win.

                “Jacob gets up there and gets himself a good pitch to hit, put a really good swing on it, and hit a missile out of here,” Jones said. “It was real exciting for the team and a lot of momentum for us. He is a good person and growing as a ball player.”

                The second game almost had last-inning dramatics. WNCC just couldn’t get the clutch hit to bring in the runs they needed in falling.

                “It was back and forth and both teams were competing really well,” Jones said. “They got the bases loaded there and we made a bad pitch I guess on my part to the left-handed hitter. I should have went with a different pitch on my part and the kid put a good swing on it, popped one to the gap, and they pulled ahead of us.”

                NJC started the game with three runs in the opening frame, but WNCC answered with two in the bottom of the first as Shintaro Inoue doubled in Roangeraud Fraai and then Eli Hernandez scores on a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.

                NJC added single runs in the second and third for a 5-2 lead. WNCC added two in the third to cut the deficit to one. WNCC loaded the bases with two outs when Jackson hit a towering pop up that the pitcher misplayed causing Inoue and Bryce Peterson to score on the play.

                After that, the Cougar pitchers and defense held the Plainsmen without a run. WNCC tied the game with a run in the sixth. Hunter McCollum started the rally with a 2-out double and scored on a Fraai double to knot the score.

                Neither team scored in the seventh forcing extra innings. With one out, Jackson ended the game taking a 1-and-1 count deep to rightfield for the walk-off winner.

                WNCC finished with eight hits in the contest led by the 2-for-3 effort from Fraai and the 2-for-4 plate appearance for Jackson.

                WNCC utilized two pitchers. Valentin Blanc went five innings allowing five runs and nine hits while striking out three. Nicolas Tremblay got the win, tossing the final three innings in not allowing a hit or run while striking out three.

                The second game was back and forth with NJC scoring one in the first before WNCC tied the game at 1-1 with a single run in the second when Peterson scored on a sacrifice fly by Ethan Johnson.

                NJC went back up 3-1 with two in the third, but it was short-lived as the Cougars took a 4-3 lead with three runs in the bottom of the third. Fraai and Inoue earned walked and the Cougars loaded the bases when Drew Book singled with two outs. Tyler Easter then drove in two with a double to tie the game. Book later scored on an error to put WNCC up 4-3.

                NJC came back with a single run in the fifth to tie the game at 4-4 and then went up with four runs in the sixth. WNCC sliced the deficit in half with two in the sixth when McCollum singles and scored on a Hernandez single. Fraai later scores on a sacrifice fly by Peterson.

                WNCC had a chance to tie the game in the seventh as Ethan Johnson singled and Fraai had a 2-out double to put two on, but that was all the Cougars could manage.

                WNCC finished with eight hits with McCollum finishing 2-for-4. McCollum was the only Cougar with multiple hits.

                WNCC had two strong pitching performances. Wyatt Zsidisin started and went four innings in allowing three hits, three runs and striking out six. Archer Blumenshein took the loss, giving up six hits, five runs, and striking out six.

Game 1

NJC        311 000 00 – 5 9 1

WNCC   202 001 01 – 6 8 0

WP – Nicolas Tremblay.

2B – Roangeraud Fraai, Shintaro Inoue, Hunter McCollum.

HR – Jake Jackson

Game 2

NJC        102 014 0 – 8 9 3

WNCC   013 002 0 – 6 8 2

LP – Archer Blumenshein.

2B – Tyler Ester, Roangeraud Fraai.