STERLING – Sterling went from a bad hop to a bad break to a bad loss in a matter of minutes during Tuesday's game against LaSalle-Peru.
The Golden Warriors received a gem of a pitching performance from senior ace Tanner Morse, but were unable to overcome a host of unfortunate circumstances in the top of the sixth inning as the Cavaliers pulled out a 4-1 victory in a Northern Illinois Big 12 West matchup at Gartner Park.
Morse (2-2) worked out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings against L-P, but was unable escape damage in the sixth. The Cavaliers' Austin Smith led off with a single that took a big hop over the glove of Sterling shortstop Frankie Perino.
The next batter, Kyle Jenkins, laced a double into left-center, then Kyle Rothrock walked to load the bases
Sterling manager Robbie Minor brought the infield in, but the Cavaliers' Tyler Brovelli beat the defense with a blooper into the area that was vacated by Warriors' second baseman Brandon Dennis. Smith scored on the play.
That tied the score at 1-1, and L-P's Nate Burris came to the plate. Burris lofted a wind-blown fly ball to short right field that managed to fall in front of Sterling outfielder Logan Rippy. He scooped up the ball and fired it home to catcher David Gottemoller, who short-hopped the ball and tried to tag the baserunner, Jenkins, who got a late jump due to the possibility of the fly ball being caught.
Jenkins was called safe on the play by the home plate umpire, eliciting howls of protest from the Sterling fans in attendance. Minor immediately came out of the dugout, arguing it should have been a force play.
"I asked him if he understood that it was a force out at home," Minor said. "I thought the throw beat [Jenkins] there by a good two or three feet, and I was almost positive my catcher's knee or foot was touching the plate. I didn't get any kind of explanation."
According to Minor and several Sterling players, the umpire initially called safe, changed the call to out, then went back to safe again. He conferred with the base official, and the safe call stood.
For Gottemoller, the call should have been an easy one.
"I dropped to block it, because it was a dirt ball," Gottemoller said. "I caught it, and I was just kneeling right there on the plate. There's no question about it. That's how you make outs."
Now up 2-1, LaSalle-Peru doubled its lead with a two-run single by Max Strickland. The Cavaliers (5-2, 2-0) finished with five hits in the inning, a product of learning as the game progressed against Morse.
"If you can put pressure on your opponent," L-P coach Matt Glupczynski said, "or if you can make the pitcher throw more pitches, they are completely different in the later innings, and they are completely different when you get runners on base. That paid off for us."
Sterling (4-5, 0-2), meanwhile, meanwhile, managed just seven hits, all singles, off Jenkins (2-0). The only run came in the fourth, on an RBI base hit by Zach Rehmert.
"You've got to give credit to L-P's pitcher," Minor said. "He threw two pitches for strikes pretty much all day. For us, it's a matter of making plays at the plate. We've been in situations where we can drive in runs, and we've failed to do that pretty much the first nine games of our season."
Star of the game: Kyle Jenkins, LaSalle-Peru, 7 IP, 1 R, 7 H, 8 SO
Key performers: Max Strickland, LaSalle-Peru, 2-run 1B; Zach Rehmert, Sterling, RBI 1B
Up next: Sterling at LaSalle-Peru, 4:30 Thursday