ROCHELLE – Some controversial calls are like a pebble in a shoe: obnoxious, but easily remedied.
The occasional call, like the one that was stuck in Donnie Chappell’s craw after Rock Falls’ 12-2, six-inning loss to Sycamore in the 3A Rochelle Regional title game Saturday afternoon, can start an avalanche.
The Spartans (24-11) took their first lead at 2-1 on a bleeder off the bat of Alec Kozak in the bottom of the fifth. With the infield drawn in, the ball snuck just wide of Noah Junis’ range at short and brought home David Scholz.
Scholz led off with a double to center off Rock Falls (20-9) starter Austin Donoho (4-4). Dustin Huycke gambled and lost by making a diving attempt on the humpback liner rather than hold Scholz to a single. Scholz moved to third on a productive groundout by Alexander Keller.
But it was a tailor-made double-play ball off the bat of catcher Nathaniel Haacker that pushed the pebble down the mountain. Jace Anderson fielded the Sunday hop at second and flipped to Junis, but Kozak popped out of his take-out slide and practically right into Junis' lap to disrupt the turn.
Chappell argued for runner interference, but lost.
“I still think…I’ve been coaching for 100 years, it seems like, and I still don’t know if I know all the rules right…but I still think the call at second was wrong,” Chappell said. “and it ends up giving them four runs and all the momentum in the whole game.”
After a wild pitch and a passed ball, Brett Weaver singled home Haacker’s courtesy runner, Curtis Swartzendruber. Then Mitchell Jordan picked on a hanging curve and banged it off the scoreboard in left center for the first of his pair of two-run homers.
“When we gave them a little life on a play here or there, the next thing you know they were hitting the ball all over the place,” Chappell said. “They didn’t hit the ball hard until the play at second. Then, all of a sudden, the ball starts flying all over the place.”
After Steven Armoska tattooed a Cole Nelson (7-0) offering into the left-center gap for a double, Trace Hippen flashed a gorgeous piece of hitting. The junior first baseman punched an outside 0-2 fastball into right center to plate Armoska and get Rock Falls (20-9) within three at 5-2.
“I’m always confident in us coming back,” Donoho said. “But today just didn’t happen to be our day.”
Donoho gave up a single and then hit No. 9 hitter Ian Kidd with a pitch in an 0-2 count in the bottom of the sixth. Jace Anderson relieved, and Scholz reached on an error to load ‘em up. Alexander Keller hit a smash to short and Donoho fielded cleanly, but his throw home was wide of catcher Jacob Mammosser up the first-base line, allowing two runs to score.
Kozak banged a two-run single and, after a Weaver sac fly, Jordan sent the Spartans to their own sectional with his second big fly. After fixing his stance to “get taller” during pregame, he spun on an inside fastball and hit it out to dead left.
“I didn’t realize the game was over until I saw all the other players running onto the field,” Jordan admitted.
Donoho deserved better. He matched Nelson pitch-for-pitch through four innings, although that just fueled Nelson’s fire.
“It gets me going,” Nelson said. “I love those high-pressure situations.”
Donoho worked five-plus, allowing seven runs while striking out four and walking two. Nelson worked all six scattering seven hits, striking out six and walking none.
The Rockets had him on the ropes in the top of the second. But after Clay Velezquez blooped a single down the right-field line to score Mammosser, Quinton Matznick lined out to short and Anderson got doubled off at second.
“When we made the mistakes, they took advantage of it,” Chappell lamented. “We had some opportunities where we could’ve done the same, and didn’t do it.”
Star of the game: Mitchell Jordan, Sycamore, 3-for-4, 2 2-run HRs
Key performers: Cole Nelson, Sycamore, 6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 SO, 0 BB; Steven Armoska, Rock Falls, 2-for-3, R, 2B