Baseball: Rock Falls come up just short vs. Winnebago in 2A sectional semifinal
Winnebago notches final clutch hit in pitchers’ duel to end Rockets’ season
By Ty Reynolds
ROCK FALLS – Two pitchers in control. Two offenses coming up with clutch hits. Two baseball teams that showed their mettle on the Class 2A sectional stage.
Winnebago had the clutchest hit in Wednesday’s semifinal in Rock Falls, as Cade Moraska’s one-out RBI single to drive in Logan Watson in the top of the eighth inning proved to be the difference in the Indians’ 5-4 win over the Rockets.
“It was just one of those games where you don’t want anybody to lose,” Rock Falls coach Donnie Chappell said. “It’s too bad one team did have to lose, and unfortunately it was us.”
Moraska and Rock Falls starter Chase Chappell were both strong on the mound. Chappell struck out 10 and walked three in six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) and five hits.
“Honestly, I was just ready to go from the start. I wanted to do everything in my power to help my team win and move on and keep playing,” Chase Chappell said. “From the get-go, I was locked in and I felt the best I’ve ever been.”
“Chase was on today, about as good as you’re going to get,” coach Chappell added. “You can’t pitch much better – and their kid, too.”
Moraska (7-0) went the distance, reaching the maximum pitch count in the final inning. He struck out 11 and walked one, giving up four earned runs and 10 hits.
“It was a fastball-curveball combo working today, and we always like to work the high fastball in, too,” Moraska said. “I love my catcher’s pitch rotations; he does a really good job back there. I’ve been working with him for a long time, so that chemistry is always working for us. It’s really nice.”
Moraska also provided what proved to be the winning hit in the final inning, and said he was actually more nervous going back out onto the mound to shut down the Rocket offense in the bottom of the eighth than he was for the key at-bat in the top of the inning.
“I had struggled at the plate early in the game, and it felt nice to drive in that go-ahead run, put us up in the top of the eighth,” he said. “I was a bit nervous in the bottom, I can’t lie. I’ve never been in a situation like that, but I just to trusted myself. I knew what I could do, and I wanted to go out there and show some senior leadership and throw a strong inning and win the game for us.”
Winnebago (15-3) took the lead in the third when Jason Buhl doubled with two outs, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a fielding error.
But Rock Falls (9-14) answered in the fourth, as Dillon Schueler singled with one out and Victor Rivera singled with two outs. Brady Richards followed with a walk to load the bases, then Drew Ebersole smacked a two-run double down the left-field line.
The Rockets made it 3-1 in the fifth, when Chappell doubled with one out and scored on Schueler’s two-out double.
“We came through in a lot of big ways, both last week and today, and I’m really, really proud of my team right now,” Chase Chappell said. “I couldn’t be any more proud of the guys. I don’t know how to put it into words, but we just overachieved so much, and I feel like we proved a lot of people wrong. That’s the thing that means the most to all of us.”
Winnebago added a run on Austin Walz’s two-out RBI single in the sixth, then took the lead in the top of the seventh. Buhl walked with one out, then Jackson Lindquist smashed a two-run home run to left-center for a 4-3 lead.
“That was a momentum change,” Moraska said. “I think that’s what won us the game – not literally – but really, in the end. I think that’s what we really needed, something big like that to happen for us to get up. We had been down the whole game, and I think we really needed that.”
The Rockets weren’t about to go quietly. Tyler Richards led off the bottom of the seventh with a bloop double just over third base, then went to third on Chappell’s groundout to first and scored on Gavin Sands’ single up the middle to tie it 4-4.
Brady Richards (1-2) took the loss in relief, allowing three earned runs and two hits in two innings, with three strikeouts and three walks.
It was another scrappy effort from a Rock Falls team that didn’t have much of a preseason thanks to a COVID quarantine at the end of football season, and also had a lot of new faces on the roster without much varsity experience due to the missed season in 2020.
“It was a weird year, for sure,” coach Chappell said. “We didn’t really get a chance to practice, either before the season with COVID issues from football, or even during the season; every time we had a day off from a game, it rained.
“But it is what it is, and I’m proud of them to go from where we were to this. We kept telling them all along that no matter what, all you have to do is win two in the regional and everybody forgets about everything else. It would’ve been nice to get another one, but it always ends somewhere, and this team finished strong.”