Dukes score five in seventh to upend Warriors
STERLING – Dirk Spence felt confident with a one-run lead entering the seventh inning.
The Dixon senior was already north of 100 pitches as he took a seat on the bench. The high count didn’t matter to him. Nothing was going to stop him from finishing what he started against the Dukes’ closest rival, the Sterling Golden Warriors, on Monday at Gartner Park.
It turned out the pressure was about to get eased by Dixon’s bats and Sterling’s errant defense. The Dukes posted five more runs, clearing the way for a 9-4 win in the first game of a three-game Northern Illinois Big 12 West series.
“I was confident with one run,” Spence said.
“We were playing such good defense, and I still felt strong,” Spence said. “It’s always good to get a win against Sterling, and it’s our first conference win.”
“I don’t think there was anyway that I could have pried him off the mound,” Dixon coach Sam Gallucci said. “This game meant so much to him and the team. It’s important to get the first win of the series, and hopefully we can get a couple more.”
Spence picked up two quick outs in the seventh before issuing a walk to Kaleb Francque. J.J. Johnston followed with an RBI double, which was Sterling’s first extra-base hit. Spence then got David Gottemoller to pop out to end the game.
Spence (1-4) allowed six hits, four earned runs with six strikeouts and six walks, and had a pitch count of 133.
“The 133 pitches were completely worth it,” Spence said. “I wouldn’t have left the mound for anything.”
A close score widened in the top of the seventh, thanks to three Sterling errors. All three led to Dixon (4-20, 1-9 NIB-12 West) runs.
Kaine Portner had a two-run single and John Thomas had an RBI single in the rally.
Errors were the theme of the day for the Golden Warriors (7-17, 1-9), who were playing for assistant coach Travis Myers. Head coach Robbie Minor was serving a one-game suspension after being ejected from a game last week against Geneseo.
“It’s a simple game, really,” Myers said. “You make the plays and you’ll probably win. We didn’t make the plays today, and they took advantage.”
After each team scored a run in the first inning, Sterling gained advantage with two runs in the second. Bryant Lilly had the big hit, a bases-loaded single that plated Johnston and courtesy runner Trevor Delgado.
Dixon tied it with two runs in the fourth. Cal Jarrett drove in one run with a single. Matt Burger then took home after Sterling tried to throw out Jarrett, as he stole second base.
“We made a lot of contact and forced their defense to make plays,” Spence said. “Coach made some great calls, and we scored some runs because of it.”
Dixon took the lead in the sixth, as Burger scored from third on a wild pitch to Jarrett.
Logan Rippy took the loss for Sterling. He allowed seven hits and nine runs, but only three were earned. He had five strikeouts and two walks in six-plus innings of work.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more from Logan,” Myers said. “There were innings where we made him try to get six or seven outs, and that just doesn’t work. Then he got tired late in the game because of it.”
Star of the game: Dirk Spence, Dixon, winning pitcher, 6 H, 4 ER, 6 SO, 6 BB, 133 pitches
Key performers: J.J. Johnston, Sterling, 3 hits, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 run; Byrant Lilly, Sterling, 2 hits, 2 RBI; Kaine Portner, Dixon, 2 hits, 2 RBI.
Up next: Sterling at Dixon, 4:30 p.m. today