ROCK FALLS – A day after peppering the scoreboard with 17 runs, the Rock Falls baseball team found a different way to get the job done.
The Rockets were error-free in the field, and turned in a few spectacular plays in taking a doubleheader from Rockford Lutheran on Tuesday. Rock Falls won the opener 4-1, then completed the sweep with a 5-2 decision in the nightcap.
The teams played two five-inning games, to avoid possible inclement weather Thursday when the teams were slated to play in Rockford.
The Rockets (8-4, 4-1 Big Northern West) bludgeoned Stillman Valley 17-8 on Monday, but these games didn’t resemble that one.
“We weren’t exactly perfect,” Rock Falls coach Donnie Chappell said, “but for a day when we weren’t hitting the ball very well, we did it on defense. That was good to see us do it in a different way.”
Lutheran (4-8, 0-4), meanwhile, was anything but clean. In the opener, a throwing error on a sure double play ball in the second inning spotted Rock Falls its first run. Two wild pitches by Crusaders’ starter Giorgi Arbisi in the third inning contributed to the Rockets getting three runs.
Lutheran also struggled on offense. Josh Britnell made the final out of the third inning getting thrown out trying to steal third base.
In the next inning, Lutheran opened with three hits off Rock Falls starter Dustin Huycke, getting one run in the process. With one out, the Crusaders’ Danny Bartz lofted a fly ball to center, deep enough for a sacrifice fly. Lutheran’s Johnny Sanchez sprinted home, only to be called out for leaving too early to leave the score at 4-1.
Huycke (1-0) then retired Lutheran in order in the fifth to preserve his first win. He allowed five hits and one walk, while striking out two.
“I felt like I was hitting my spots pretty good,” Huycke said. “My fastball was working pretty good. The curveball got away from me a couple times, but that’s OK.”
Lutheran continued to struggle in the second game with three errors, as well as six wild pitches charged to starting pitcher Jason Kerestes. Three of the wild pitches led to the Rockets’ second and third runs.
Ahead 3-2 entering the fifth, Rock Falls got insurance when Austin Donoho cracked his first home run of the season. It was a no-doubter over the fence in left.
“It was a fastball, a little up, and I caught up to it,” Donoho said. “It went out, but I’m more worried about getting a team win than my stats.”
An RBI double by Eddie Nelson gave Rock Falls an additional run later in the inning.
Lutheran had the makings of a big inning in the first. Joe Wild doubled with one out, then Trevor Tunison scratched out an infield hit. The next batter, Sanchez, lined a clean single to center. Wild tried to score on the hit, but was thrown out at the plate after an accurate relay throw by the Rockets’ Trace Hippen.
Justin Woolbright followed with the team’s fourth straight hit off Nelson, but Kerestes flew out to end the inning with just one run crossing the plate.
Rock Falls had another defensive gem when it turned an around-the-horn double play to end the third inning.
“They converted a little bit better than we did,” Lutheran coach Mark Tunison said, “and we just couldn’t get that big inning going. Their pitchers did a good job of throwing strikes and staying ahead.”
Nelson (2-1) allowed two runs, five hits and hit one batter, while striking out five.
Star of the games: Eddie Nelson, Rock Falls, 4-for-5, 2B, 2 R, RBI; winning pitcher in Game 2
Key performers: Austin Donoho, Rock Falls, HR; Dustin Huycke, Rock Falls, winning pitcher in Game 1
Up next: Rock Falls vs. Sterling, noon Saturday at Belvidere North