ROCK FALLS – Kris Nunez will likely spend most of today using hand gestures to communicate.
The Rock Falls softball coach saw the energy level on her team take a dramatic dive during the fourth inning of Wednesday's game against the Freeport Pretzels.
Nunez's only solution was to provide a constant source of chatter, either from the dugout or the third-base coaching box. She put the right combination of words together, because the Rockets responded in dramatic fashion in a 6-5 win in eight innings.
"I spent the better part of two innings yelling," Nunez said. "I am sure everyone heard it. Their heads just dropped in the fourth, and I knew that I had to do everything I could to get their energy back into the game. I just probably won't have much of a voice after this."
The Rockets entered the bottom of the seventh trailing 5-2.
Kaylyn Booker lined a double to center field off of Freeport starter Samantha Hughes to start the inning. Chelsi Blair followed with a single to move Booker to third.
Blair took off on the first pitch to Jenny Lawson. The throw down to second skipped into center field, which allowed Booker to score.
On the next pitch, Lawson hit a screaming line drive right at second baseman Mirakel Dredmond. Blair dove back to second, barely avoiding being doubled-off at second.
That brought Carly Dodd to the plate. Dodd had started in the circle before being replaced by Michaela Ward. She was 0-for-3, and had reached base on an error in the sixth.
Dodd connected on a high flyball on the first pitch. The ball kept carrying in the wind, and left fielder Alex Kohn had a bead on it. But, the ball carried over the fence, as did Kohn, who flipped over the top of the barrier after running into it at full speed.
"It fell really good," Dodd said. "I usually don't hit slower pitching all that well. She threw me a fastball, and I just tried to stay back on it."
The blast tied the score, forcing an extra inning. After Ward (5-0) dispatched the Pretzels in the top of the eighth, picking up her eighth and ninth strikeouts in four innings of work in the process, the Rockets came up to the plate.
Kara Nehrkorn and Baylie Janssen started the eighth with back-to-back singles, which brought No. 9 hitter Taylor Anderson to the plate.
Anderson executed a perfect bunt down the line that first baseman Sierra Best could not get a handle on.
"Taylor has perfected bunting so far this season," Nunez said. "You can tell her exactly where you want her to place the ball, and she will do it. That's an invaluable skill to have."
With the bases loaded and no outs, Rock Falls seemed certain to score. Booker stepped to the plate and drilled a pitch to short center, but the defense was in perfect position for the catch, and the ball wasn't deep enough to score Nehrkorn from third.
Chelsi Blair did the same, only to right field after that. The difference was that after right fielder Haley Pentacost caught the ball, she threw home even though Nehrkorn wasn't heading to the plate.
The throw was offline up the third-base line and got away from the catcher, allowing Nehrkorn to score.
"We had made some mistakes early in the game," Nunez said. "They just happened to make one when it counted the most."
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead, things turned south in the top of the fourth when the Rock Falls defense committed three errors that led to five unearned Pretzel runs off of Dodd.
After a scoreless fifth, Rock Falls scored a single run in the sixth on a RBI double by Nehrkorn. The Rockets did leave runners on second and third in the sixth.
"I think a game like this we were just waiting for someone to get a hit to get us started," Dodd said. "Sometimes that is all you need. This proves that we can come back if we fall behind, we just have to stay positive and keep working hard."
Star of the game: Julie Dodd, Rock Falls, game-tying 2-run home run in seventh inning
Key performers: Kara Nehrkorn, Rock Falls, 3 hits, 2B, 1 RBI; Michaela Ward, Rock Falls, 4 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 9 SO, 0 BB
Up next: Mendota at Rock Falls, 4:30 p.m. today