As the saying goes, an athlete doesn’t for the name on the back of their uniform, but for the name on the front.
But in Jack Nielsen’s case, he’s playing for both.
Blair Legion on the front.
Dennis Richters on the back.
Nielsen and the rest of his Blair (Nebraska) teammates wear special military-themed baseball uniforms that feature the name of a family member — or someone special to them — who served in the military.
For Nielsen, that person is his grandfather.
“He’s someone I’m close to,” Nielsen said. “He was in the National Guard, and I’ve always really looked up to him.”
As a way to honor those who served, Blair put together an undefeated weekend and captured the Lewis & Clark Classic championship by beating Sioux Falls West 9-5 in Sunday afternoon’s final at Yankton’s Riverside Field at Bob Tereshinski Stadium.
The idea was one that was mentioned to the legion team by a parent, according to head coach James Bilslend.
Would Blair be interested?
“We said yes, absolutely,” Bilslend said. “And the kids bought into it right away.”
The players then got to choose who they wanted to represent.
“When we started this, we said, ‘Let’s honor them,’” Bilslend said.
“The kids understand that if their grandparent or whoever it is didn’t serve, we wouldn’t be here.”
Was there any correlation between the names of the veterans and winning the tournament championship?
Definitely, Nielsen said.
“We just want to represent and play hard, and do things the right way,” he said. “This is so much bigger than us.”
That was part of the message from Bilslend to his players after Sunday’s victory: They’re a family and families thrive when everyone works together.
“We don’t do anything without communicating with everyone,” Bilslend said later. “We’re in this together.”
That was especially evident in the second inning of the championship game.
Blair scored six runs on six hits, highlighted by a three-run home run by A.J. Bilslend. That was plenty of run support for Max Nickerson, who pitched into the sixth inning.
Auggie Ramussen tripled and doubled twice for Blair, while A.J. Bilslend also singled. Colton Quick had a pair of RBI singles, while Ben Aguilera and Nielsen both had RBI singles. Aidan Mohr had the other single.
All told, Blair won six games in a 49-hour span and out-scored its opponents 66-15 in the tournament.
“It was a tough road, but we do everything as one,” coach Bilslend said. “We have guys who step up for each other.”
In the case of Sioux Falls West, it got two doubles and a single from Ben Simonsen, and a pair of singles from Karsten Grove. Grady Gulbranson (a Mount Marty College recruit) hit a solo home run, Mason Crow had an RBI single, while Matt Fiegen, Aidan Thomas and Keaton Hartman all singled.
In the end, though, it was Blair who survived the six-game gauntlet over the three days.
“It was a lot of baseball,” Nielsen said, with a smile.
“Our pitchers really came through,” he added, “and we did what we had to do at the plate.”
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