Baseball: Wild inning sends Sterling to Class 3A regional semifinals

9-run sixth inning lifts Golden Warriors past Rochelle in postseason opener

Sterling’s Mason Smithee steals home on a wild pitch against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.Monday, May 20, 2024.

STERLING – After both teams struggled on offense for most of the game Monday, one wild inning was all Sterling needed to win its Class 3A Dixon Regional quarterfinal against Rochelle.

The Golden Warriors trailed by two runs heading into the bottom of the sixth but scored nine runs in that frame to defeat the Hubs 10-3 at Gartner Park.

“We just kept it simple that inning,” said Bryce Hartman, who led the way with two hits and three RBIs. “We were all pretty out in front against the first pitcher, and no one wanted the season to end, so we adjusted. We kept it simple, trusted each other, and that’s what ended up working for us.”

Sterling (13-16-1) sent 13 batters to the plate in the sixth and didn’t get a hit until it had batted around. Dylan Ottens started the rally with a one-out walk, then Tatum Allen reached on an error and Drew Nettleton walked to load the bases.

Garrett Polson was hit in the back by a 2-2 pitch to force in Ottens, then Mason Smithee was hit in the back by the very next pitch to force in Allen and tie the game 3-3. Braden Birdsley gave the Warriors the lead with a sacrifice fly to center to drive in courtesy runner Nick Capp, but Sterling wasn’t done.

Sterling’s Eli Penne rounds third base against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.

Eli Penne drew a two-out walk to reload the bases, then Miles Nawrocki greeted Rochelle’s second reliever with a bases-loaded walk to force in Polson; ball four was a wild pitch that allowed Smithee to score all the way from second base.

Hartman, who had led off the inning, then drove in Penne and Nawrocki with a two-run single to right – the first hit of the crazy inning – for an 8-3 lead.

“We were just taking the pitches that weren’t close, not swinging at anything in the dirt or above our heads. It worked really well, and we were really locked in at the plate, really stayed patient,” Nettleton said. “It takes a lot of character and resilience to be able to pull out wins like this.”

Ottens followed with an infield single, just beating out the throw on the play, which got away and allowed Hartman to score. Ottens stole second during Allen’s second at-bat of the inning, then went to third on Allen’s single to left. Sterling then executed a double-steal, as Allen was safe on the throw to second and Ottens raced home on the play.

Sterling’s Mason Smithee fields a ball at first base against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.

When all was said and done, the Warriors had scored nine runs on three hits, four walks, two hit batsmen, two errors and a sacrifice fly.

The damage came against the Hubs’ bullpen, after starter Brode Bruns had allowed only one unearned run and four hits in five innings while striking out four and walking five. Brock Metzger took the loss after starting the sixth inning, and Ethan Goodwin got the final out of that frame.

“A couple errors, a couple hit batters, a couple walks, and it just kind of snowballed on us,” Rochelle coach Jarrod Reynolds said. “It was unfortunate; you always hate to beat yourself, but that’s high school baseball sometimes. Generally there’s a team that beats itself and the other team takes advantage, and that’s what happened to us in that sixth inning.”

Rochelle (7-21) tied the game 1-1 with three straight hits in the fourth, the last one an RBI double by Goodwin. The Hubs took a 3-1 lead in the fifth with back-to-back doubles by Brode Metzger and Bruns, then a two-out double by Carson Lewis.

Sterling’s Dylan Ottens hauls in a fly ball against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.

But they had more chances to score and came up empty. Nettleton stranded a pair of base runners in the first, then got a line-drive double play to shortstop to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second unscathed. He also limited the damage in the fourth, as he turned a comebacker into an out at the plate before notching a strikeout to strand two more Rochelle runners and keep the score 1-1.

“We had 10 hits, and I thought we had pretty good at-bats, we just never could seem to break it open, which was unfortunate,” Reynolds said. “But that seems to be our thing this year; we get 10 hits and somehow only score three runs. It’s been kind of frustrating in that sense, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from our kids, and it wasn’t because they weren’t trying their hardest.”

Brode Metzger had three hits, including a double, and scored a run for Rochelle, and Bruns had a single, a double, a run and an RBI. Lewis also singled, doubled, scored a run and drove in another, and Ryan Senne added a pair of singles.

Sterling’s Drew Nettleton fires a pitch against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.

Nettleton went the distance on the mound for the Warriors, allowing three earned runs and 10 hits, with four strikeouts and three walks. He settled in nicely after the first couple of innings, as he didn’t allow a walk after the second and threw an efficient 55 pitches over the final five innings after tossing 35 in the first two frames.

“My curveball was good. My changeup, I could not hit my spots at all, but I could spot-up my fastball all right,” Nettleton said. “It helps a lot to be able to get out of those jams, especially when it’s a close game like it was for the first six innings. Getting out of those jams and giving our team a chance was big for our confidence and our momentum.”

“Drew’s been good all year, man,” Hartman said. “We have all the confidence in him to do great things on the mound. We made the plays behind him tonight, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Sterling advances to Wednesday’s semifinal against top-seeded Sycamore at Veteran’s Memorial Field in Dixon’s Page Park.

“This is definitely a special team,” Hartman said. “We didn’t have the greatest record, but we stayed with each other the whole year, we fought alongside each other. We’ve had bad games and we’ve also had good games, but we’ve done it all together. We’re ready to go shock the world.”

Sterling’s Bryce Hartman throws to second for an out against Rochelle Monday, May 20, 2024 the class 3A regional quarterfinal.
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