ROCK FALLS – All season long, Donnie Chappell has been preaching aggressive play to his young Rock Falls baseball team, both on the mound at at the plate.
The message apparently sunk in Friday afternoon. Austin Donoho struck out 16 in a three-hitter, and the Rockets swung early and often in every at-bat in an 8-3 victory over Rockridge.
“When you swing at good pitches, no matter what the count, good things are going to happen,” said Donoho, who faced three batters over the minimum and didn’t issue a walk. “We were just looking for the first good pitch to hit today, and that approach paid off.
“On the mound, I just wanted to pound the zone with all the pitches I’ve got, and they were all working pretty good today. I tried to keep them off-balance, and my defense played well behind me.”
Donoho had five innings in which he faced just three hitters, and he struck out the side three times. Three of those innings were 1-2-3, including the last two, over which Donoho (2-2) struck out four and induced a groundout and a pop fly.
The other two innings in which he faced the minimum were helped along by a pair of pickoffs, one by Donoho and the other by catcher Jacob Mammosser.
Seventy percent of his pitches (66 of of 94) were strikes.
“Austin has that kind of stuff, where he can dominate a lineup,” Chappell said. “He didn’t care what the count was today. He threw any pitch in any count, and he threw most of them for strikes. He makes our defense look really good when he pitches the way he did today.”
The Rock Falls bats also did their part, giving Donoho a 6-0 lead after the junior had thrown just 23 pitches. Mammosser’s bloop, two-out single plated Donoho in the top of the first, then Eddie Nelson tripled home Mammosser, and Jace Anderson singled home Nelson.
Rock Falls (10-7) got three more in the second, when Steven Armoska smoked a two-out laser shot over the left-center field fence for a three-run homer. The ball landed on the softball diamond as Clay Vleazquez and Donoho scored ahead of Armoska.
“As a pitcher, anytime your team can get you some runs in the first couple of innings, it always gives you more confidence and makes you more relaxed,” Donoho said.
Donoho’s lone rough inning came in the fourth. Tyler Ulfig led off with a solo homer, then Alex Martin reached base on a third-strike wild pitch. Nick Madison followed with a two-run shot, but Donoho stopped the bleeding with a strikeout, a comebacker and another K.
Donoho then helped his own cause in the bottom of the sixth, providing a couple of insurance runs with a two-out, two-run homer to right-center.
Donoho had two hits and scored three runs, while Nelson had a pair of hits and Velazquez walked threee times and scored twice fom the nine-hole. Six of Rock Falls’ eight hits came with two outs, and four of them went for extra bases.
“We’ve got the ability to win games the way we did today,” Chappell said, “we just haven’t quite figured out how to do it game in and game out. We’re stull young, but today was a good day.”
Rockridge (5-9) had just five baserunners, and left nobody on base. There wasn’t an error on either side in a quick, clean contest. Isaiah Kistler (1-2) took the loss, striking out five and walking five.
“Donnie is the best coach in northwest Illinois, and his teams are always very good,” Rockridge coach Glen Cook said. “They’ve got some real stud hitters, and their pitcher was great today. We love playing Rock Falls, because it’s always fun; it’s just more fun for them a lot of the time because they beat us.”
Rock Falls 8, Rockridge 3
Star of the game: Austin Donoho, RF, 3-hitter, 16 Ks, 2-run HR, 3 runs scored
Key performers: Steven Armoska, RF, 3-run HR; Eddie Nelson, RF, 2 hits, RBI 3B, run; Tyler Ulfig, Rockridge, solo HR; Nick Madison, Rockridge, 2-run HR
Up next: Rock Falls at Mendota, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday