ROCK FALLS – Down to their final out in the bottom of the seventh inning and trailing rival Sterling by a run, the Rock Falls baseball team generated some offense thanks to baserunning.
With runners of the corners and two outs, Rockets shortstop Chase Chappell broke for second. The throw sailed into center field, allowing Brady Richards to score from third to tie the score 6-6.
After an extra inning in which both sides went down in order – Rock Falls’ Luke Akerman got a pair of strikeouts and a flyball to left in the top of the eighth, while Sterling Garrett Polson struck out the side in the bottom half – the sun started to set, so the teams called it a 6-6 tie in 8.
Rock Falls trailed 6-3 heading into the bottom of the sixth before scoring three runs to tie things up.
“[We were] just getting excited, getting our bench in the game, and really getting the energy up,” Rock Falls third baseman Gavin Sands said.
It was Sands delivering a huge blow for the Rockets, driving in Richards and Victor Rivera on a two-out, two-run double in the sixth to cut the Sterling lead to 6-5.
“I just saw one I could take and I just drove it,” Sands said.
In the early going, it was Sterling coming up with big hits. After Richards had retired the Warriors in order in the first, Ryan Heffelfinger led off the second with a solo home run to left-center.
“Pitcher took a while, so I made sure I established my batter’s box,” Heffelfinger said. “He threw me two balls in a row, I knew he had to come at me with a fastball or something down the middle. He threw it to me and it left the park.”
An inning later, Noel Aponte added another leadoff home run, blasting the first pitch he saw to straightaway center.
Sterling added a pair of runs in the fourth. Heffelfinger laced a double down the right-field line, then scored on a ground-rule double by Polson. Aponte drove in Polson with a one-out single.
In the fifth, Heffelfinger drove in JD Hall and later scored on a wild pitch.
“We kind of struggled the first couple innings and tried to make an adjustment on how they were pitching us,” Sterling coach Nick Pepper said. “A few of our guys did that well. On a windy day like today, you get the ball up in the air decently hard, it’s going to travel.”
Rock Falls had a three-run second inning, but the afternoon saw the Rockets leave 13 runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded in the first and leaving runners at second and third in the second, fourth and fifth innings.
The Rockets loaded the bases in the first inning on three walks issued by Sterling starter Colt Adams before Sands flew out to left to end the threat.
In the second inning, Connor Mullen doubled to lead off the inning and later scored. Brady Dowd, who reached on an error and made it to third on a pair of wild pickoff attempts, scored on a wild pitch. Isaiah Kobbeman then drove in Richards to make it 3-1.
But despite getting runners on in the third, fourth and fifth innings, the Rockets couldn’t score. Hall worked around a two-out single in the third with a strikeout, had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth before getting a pop-up on the infield and a strikeout to end the inning, and got a grounder back to the mound to end the fifth after Sands and Dowd reached on infield singles.
Rock Falls hitters drew nine walks on the day, and when on base stole eight bases.
“We’re going to have to manufacture runs a lot this year,” Rockets coach Donnie Chappell said. “It’s not the same team we usually have swinging all the way through it, but I think we’ll get better as the year goes and people come back, though I think we’ll be aggressive on the bases.”
Sterling (2-0-1) got 3 2/3 innings of relief from Hall, who struck out six. Polson then worked the final three innings and struck out seven.
Richards pitched the first 3 1/3 for Rock Falls (0-2-1) and struck out six. Akerman went the rest of the way, striking out three.
“Luke did a really good job competing,” Donnie Chappell said. “He had better stuff the first two times out. It wasn’t his best stuff today, so he fought through it. Brady, I thought, was excellent the first 3 1/3.”