ROCK FALLS – Trace Hippen figured out the secret to keeping the Stillman Valley Cardinals off the scoreboard.
The Rock Falls junior threw three scoreless innings after the Cardinals put up 10 runs through the first four.
All he needed to do next to secure his place as hero was make contact in the bottom of the seventh inning with teammate Cory McCallister on first base and the Rockets down by a run.
He did just that, lining an offering from Steig Theden toward center field.
Unfortunately, Connor McNames had other plans. The second baseman jumped up and snagged the ball out of the air, then doubled off McCallister at first.
One out later, the Rockets were walking off the field after suffering a 10-9 loss in the Big Northern West opener for both teams.
“Trace did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Rock Falls coach Donnie Chappell said. “He made solid contact and drove the ball. They just made the play. We had a similar thing happen the inning before.”
“Trace figured it out on the mound. He threw strikes, and they couldn’t hit it. If we had started that way, and if we had played better defensively, we probably win 9-1.”
Rock Falls (1-3, 0-1) started right by jumping out to a 3-0 lead, thanks to an RBI double by Eddie Nelson in the first inning. Jacob Mammosser also drove in a run with a flyout.
Rockets starter Jace Anderson ran into trouble in the third inning. Stillman’s Matt Stone led off by reaching on an error by Austin Donoho.
Stone scored after a strikeout on a single by Todd Whitrow. After a strikeout and a walk, Frank Baley stepped to the plate and slugged a high fastball over the center-field fence to put Stillman Valley (3-0, 1-0) up 4-3.
“Frank came through big for us,” Stillman Valley coach Scott Wilhite said. “He has been impressive so far this spring. We think he can take the next step, if he continues to work hard.”
RBI singles by Mammosser and Anderson in the bottom of the inning gave Rock Falls the lead back. It continued a hot start for Mammosser.
“He had a big hit for us in our win last week down south,” Chappell said. “We haven’t had many bright spots yet, but he has been one of him. He hadn’t done a lot of catching, but we brought him up, and he’s learning behind the plate.”
The Cardinals broke the game open in the fifth inning as Steven Armoska (0-1) took over the duties on the mound.
Armoska walked four of the first five batters he faced, which brought up Baley again with runners in scoring position. Baley slugged a high fly ball to right-center that neither Dustin Huycke nor Nelson could grab. Two runs scored.
Before the half-inning was over, Stillman had put up six runs and led 10-5.
Rock Falls cut into the lead with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Armoska singled in two runs and Nelson also drove in a run.
Nelson brought the Rockets within a run in the sixth with a groundout that scored Huycke, who had reached on a single, stolen second and gone to third on a wild pitch.
“It was just an ugly baseball game,” Chappell said. “I think they’d say the same thing. It’s been a while since we’ve played in one like that. We started the same way last year, and we know that it can only go up from here.”
Star of the game: Frank Baley, Stillman Valley, 3-run home run, 2B, 3 RBIs
Key performers: Eddie Nelson, Rock Falls, 2B, 3 RBIs; Trace Hippen, Rock Falls, 3 scoreless innings in relief.
Up next: Rock Falls at Sherrard (DH), 10 a.m. Saturday