Baseball: Newman tops Dixon in 8-inning nail-biter

Strong defense, late offense lifts Comets over Dukes 7-3

Newman’s Brendan Tunink rounds third base to score against Dixon Saturday, April 13, 2024 at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon.

DIXON – In a highly anticipated baseball game Saturday at Veterans Memorial Field, Dixon and Newman faced off in a matchup of top Sauk Valley area teams.

The Comets and Dukes were evenly matched, playing excellent defense and to a tie through three innings. After four innings without a score, Newman finally broke through in the top of the eighth, using a four-run surge to defeat Dixon 7-3.

With the game tied at 3 heading into the eighth, the Comets (8-3-1) had a feeling a breakthrough was coming.

“We’ve been working on hitting ground balls, trying to advance the runners, and we couldn’t do it [for four innings], but we knew it was going to happen at some point,” Newman senior center fielder Brendan Tunink said. “So it was just sticking with the game and being prepared any time. And then, in the eighth inning, we kind of broke through and got it.”

With Tunink on second base and one out in the top of the eighth inning, sophomore pitcher Garet Wolfe strode to the plate. Wolfe’s line-drive double to deep center brought Tunink around for the go-ahead run, and the Comets kept adding from there.

Newman’s Garet Wolfe takes the mound against Dixon Saturday, April 13, 2024 at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon.

“I’m just not trying to do too much. We had a guy on first and second,” Wolfe said about his approach on the critical at-bat. “Just making sure I don’t strike out, at least put a ball in play and challenge their defense.”

Freshman Ashton Miner came home on a wild pitch for a two-run lead, and junior catcher Daniel Kelly reached on an error and took second as Wolfe came home for run No. 6.

Sophomore shortstop Garret Matznick hammered an RBI double to deep left field to stretch the lead to 7-3.

“We just didn’t hustle. We beat ourselves because of the little things that we’ve been teaching all year, and then the mental approach to the game,” Dixon coach Jason Burgess said. “They made plays. We made errors. ... They deserved to win because they didn’t make the mistakes. They just played a really nice, clean game, and kudos to them for that.”

In the bottom of the eighth, Wolfe worked a 1-2-3 inning to seal the win.

“[I settled in after] the first inning, for sure. My curveball and changeup weren’t doing what I wanted to do. I couldn’t locate it at all,” Wolfe said. “I tried to rely on my fastball a lot, and it got hit around quite a bit. But after three innings, my curveball and changeup, after throwing it in warmups, got to where I wanted it to be.”

Dixon’s James Leslie drives the ball for an RBI against Newman Saturday, April 13, 2024 at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon.

For four straight innings, neither team could score. Newman stranded a runner on third base in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and had the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the seventh, but Dixon senior pitcher Ari Selmani struck out the next batter to get out of the jam.

Newman took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Wolfe’s RBI groundout. Dixon went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the inning on RBI singles by seniors Quade Richards and James Leslie.

The Comets retook the lead at 3-2 in the top of the second on Miner’s two-run double to right-center field before the Dukes (9-2) tied it again at 3 with an RBI double from senior catcher Aiden Wiseman in the bottom of the third.

Selmani, who came on for sophomore Brady Lawrence at the start of the fourth inning, pitched four straight scoreless innings before the eighth. Wolfe pitched five consecutive shutout innings to ensure Newman’s win.

The Comets had a few big-time defensive plays of their own. In the bottom of the fourth inning, they turned a double play with one out and a runner on first. In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and a runner on third, junior second baseman Chase Decker made a diving stop in right field and threw out the runner at first.

“It was awesome. The defense today was just amazing,” Tunink said. “Garret Matznick at short made some crazy plays, and Liam [Nicklaus] at third and Chase [Decker] at second, and Isaiah [Williams] even, scooping the ball at first all the time. The infield was doing really well today. [Garet Wolfe was] lights out. He settled in just perfect. He was pumped to pitch today. He was awesome today. You couldn’t ask for a better outing.”

Newman’s Garet Matznick scoops a ball at short against Dixon Saturday, April 13, 2024 at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon.

Tunink finished 4 for 4 with an intentional walk and a triple, and scored three runs. Wolfe had three hits and Miner and Matznick each chipped in two hits. Miner and Wolfe also had two RBIs apiece. Wolfe earned the complete-game win, allowing three runs on nine hits and striking out four with two walks.

Wiseman and Richards each went 3 for 4 with an RBI to lead Dixon at the plate. Richards scored two runs, and Leslie chipped in one RBI for the Dukes.

Selmani took the loss in 5 1/3 innings of relief, allowing four runs (three earned) on nine hits and striking out eight with no walks.

“It was great to see a close game. Our guys needed a close game. They need that gut check,” Burgess said. “They need that pressure, because that pressure is what we need for the end of the year. Playing in a game like that, I really enjoyed for that effect, because if you don’t play close games, when you get into regionals or sectionals, you’re not going to be ready. You’re going to fold. Our team folded a little bit today. That tells us what we need to work on. It was a great learning moment for us.”

Dixon’s Quade Richards fires to first for an out against Newman Saturday, April 13, 2024 at Veterans Memorial Park in Dixon.
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Dan Wussow

Dan Wussow

Dan is the sports editor for Sauk Valley Media. Previously, he wrote for The Post-Crescent in his hometown of Appleton, WI.