By Kyle Koso
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – Play right field the right way, and you’ll likely avoid being on the wrong side of the scoreline.
The 14u Northstar Navy benefited from two critical defensive plays from the position on Saturday during D1 championship bracket action at the 2023 SlumpBuster, creating the room needed to pull off a 4-2 comeback win over Millard Elite-Williams (NE) at the Council Bluffs Recreation Complex. Northstar, out of Shakopee, MN, is the highest seeded team left in the bracket at No. 2 and will look to continue its run Sunday at 9 a.m. vs. the No. 6-seeded Dallas Tigers-Killian.
Saturday, Northstar got a righteous right field play from Isaac Feller in the top of the fifth inning as he threw out a baserunner at first, canceling out the single and keeping a run off the scoreboard as Millard claimed a 2-0 lead. And in the top of the sixth, Jack Van Gemert made a diving catch with two outs that again kept the scoreboard clean.
The defensive heroics allow Northstar to cobble together an offensive response. With one out in the fifth, Brody Nelson hit a two-run double to tie the game at 2-all, and in the sixth, Feller tripled in a run and then scored on a wild pitch for the final margin.
“I’m super happy with the guys. We’ve made one or two errors total, the whole tournament, and they’ve been amazing in the field,” said Northstar coach Zach Jakubowsky. “They’ve kept it simple haven’t tried to do too much, and Jack’s catch probably saved two runs and turned the momentum in our favor.
Millard Elite broke ahead early – a single from Jamison Saathoff drove in Ty Longlee in the fourth, and Carson Burke singled in Lucas Heller in the fifth.
“The boys love to swing the bat – scored 50 runs in pool play and started Saturday with nine,” added Jakubowsky. “We were a little tense early and the Millard pitcher (Alex Golnik) was easily the best arm we’ve faced. They found their approach, and we slowed them down a bit in the third, fourth inning, and that seemed to help a lot.”
“My approach was to look fastball the first two pitches. With two strikes, I had to change my approach a bit, but I saw something up and took it with me,” said Feller, whose triple to centerfield just kept on carrying over the head of the fielder. “We were a little down, but we battle, and we had faith. Our pitchers are good, and I trust them.”
Nelson had struck out in the third inning, but carried no negative feelings into his big at-bat in the fifth.
“Your mind is obviously racing in a situation like that, so I stepped out of the box, closed my eyes, took a breath and tried to visualize what I wanted to do,” said Nelson, who also pitched 2 2/3 innings of stellar relief, allowing one hit and two walks. “When I saw the pitch come in, I had been early before so I tried to push it the opposite field and put it in the gap.
“Alex pitched great for us, and for me, the adrenaline coming into a big situation gets my heart pumping. I tried to pound the zone; I know I have a great defense behind me. If I throw strikes and do my part, my team will do their part.”
Gideon Novotny reached base three times for Millard Elite; Saathoff had two hits.
In the other 14u D1 semifinal, the No. 13-seed 4SA Gold (out of Omaha) will play the Delmarva Aces (Ocean City, Maryland), seeded eighth and the team that beat the top-seeded Winter Park Diamond Dogs, 5-4, on Saturday.