STERLING – Tanner Morse slid to his right and, on a knee, absorbed a sharp one-hopper to the chest. He popped up and threw out Trevor Craig at first, while Lucas Knepp scored.
It marked the last run of Sterling's 13-5 Northern Illinois Big 12 West loss Wednesday at Gartner Park. The welt undoubtedly left on the Sterling shortstop's chest was emblematic of Geneseo's remarkable hitting display. The Maple Leafs banged out 18 hits, 10 of them notching RBIs in all nine slots in Steve Brucher's lineup.
But to Morse's credit, he played the ball aggressively and knocked it down. The Golden Warriors (8-8, 2-4 NIB-12 West) otherwise committed six errors and made several other mental mistakes and saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
The key sequence came with Sterling trying to pull even in the bottom of the third. After starter Logan Rippy drove in Morse with a single and Bryant Lilly bunted him into scoring position behind courtesy runner Brady Siegmund, Kaleb Francque smoked a single to center.
Siegmund scored to make it 5-4, but Rippy was cut down at the plate by a sparkling one-hop throw from center field by Rayce Singbush.
"He made a perfect one-hop throw," Sterling coach Robbie Minor said. "That was a big play on their part."
"We practice that a lot in practice," Singbush said. "Practice, practice, practice … That definitely was a big momentum boost."
Naturally, the junior was due up second and mashed a two-run home run to left center that plated Adam Stenzel and restored the three-run lead at 7-4.
"That happens, no matter if it's professional, college or high school," Brucher said. "In my mind, that was the key inning. Those two things gave us some momentum and deflated them a bit, I think."
The Maple Leafs (14-5, 3-2) added another run and chased Rippy (0-4). Lilly and Eldon Oltmanns worked the last 3 2/3 innings, two of the five runs they allowed being unearned.
Lefty Greg Rusk (1-0) worked the first four innings, allowing five runs – four earned – on seven hits while striking out five and walking one to get the win. Hard-throwing Nathan Yager converted a three-inning save by allowing just one hit, striking out five and walking one. He entered with a 9-5 lead and focused on pounding the strike zone.
"Just get outs, get the ball on the ground, strike 'em out and do whatever I can to help the team," Yager said.
Zach Riffe went 3-for-5 for Geneseo and scored four times. Catcher Michael Daniels also had three hits, and Knepp, his courtesy runner, stole a base and scored three times.
Joe Thomas had four hits, and Singbush was the only Leaf with multiple RBIs, but had just one hit – the big fly.
"Just one out of the 19," Singbush said, laughing. "Baseball's a game of failures and successes, and you can't always depend on the successes. When the failures happen, you've got to be ready for them."
Sterling catcher David Gottemoller and Rippy both had two hits. Zach Rehmert gave Sterling a brief lead in the bottom of the first when he hit a topper to Rusk's right. It scored Morse, who led off the frame with a clothesline single to left. Rusk airmailed the throw to first, allowing Rippy to scamper home for a 2-1 lead.
But the Warriors committed two errors in Geneseo's three-run third and one in each of the following three innings, and on three separate occasions allowed infield singles that could have been prevented by charging the ball sooner.
"That's something we've worked on from Day 1," Minor said. "I don't know what it was today. We just didn't have it. We didn't show up to play. The energy level was low."
The Warriors endured a five-game losing streak before their four-game winning streak.
"The beautiful thing about baseball is we get to come out tomorrow and play again," Minor said. "We've been streaky so far this year. I have the utmost confidence in my guys that they'll come back tomorrow ready to play."
Star of the game: Nate Yager, Geneseo, 3-inning Sv, H, 0 R, 5 SO
Key stat: 10 Maple Leafs had an RBI
Up next: Sterling at Geneseo, 4:30 p.m. today