BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – The dominance of the Northwestern Youth Baseball League in the annual county baseball tournament continued after Merrell Brothers stopped Neher Insurance of Southside 11-1 in four innings in the championship game. Played at Robert M. Waddell Memorial Field in Russiaville, Merrell Brothers won its first David A. Kasey Memorial Howard County Baseball Tournament and the third in a row for Northwestern.
Merrell Brothers joined Kokomo Grain and Expressions as recent Kasey Tourney champs from Northwestern – the title was the eighth overall for the league, which is now the most for any county league (Russiaville has seven). Merrell also won the Northwestern regular season and tournament championships.
In the 63rd annual title game, sponsored by the Kokomo Tribune, Merrell Brothers jumped to a quick 2-0 lead and never trailed. Both first inning runs came without the assistance of a base hit – Brock Shank opened the game by receiving a base on balls, went to second on a throwing error, stole third and scored on a wild pitch. Then No. 3 hitter Hayden Cook walked, stole second and third before scoring on a second Neher error.
Neher Insurance (16-10) made the game a contest with its only run coming in the bottom of the first. Caleb Taflinger led off the inning with a single, No. 2 hitter Micah Taflinger walked and clean-up hitter K.J. Lorenz singled to score Caleb.
But Merrell was too strong – they answered with two runs in the second inning, one in the third and six in the fourth. Meanwhile, 10-year-old Jaxson Trueblood was sensational on the hill for Merrell Brothers. After getting out of the first inning jam, he pitched the next two to earn the win. Teegan Helmle closed the game by striking out Neher in order in the fourth.
The road to the championship was not easy for Merrell Brothers (21-2) as they had to go through a pair of league champions. In the opening round of the tourney, they met Russiaville champion Lions Club and earned a 5-2 win. They knocked off King’s Heating and Plumbing (UCT) 11-1 in the second round and Expressions of Northwestern 9-1 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Merrell defeated Southside’s undefeated champ Quality Plumbing and Heating 2-0.
Neher advanced to the finals with wins over Eriks Chevrolet (UCT) 11-1, Martin Brothers (RUS) 4-3, AFSCME (ES) 6-1 and Coke (UCT) 10-0. The tourney was plagued with bad weather, which forced the championship to be played on Saturday, which was two days behind schedule.