ROCK FALLS – Trailing 11-7 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rock Falls Rockets refused to panic.
Instead, they completed a two-out, six-run rally to capture a 13-11 win over Rockford Lutheran Tuesday night.
The rally was capped off by senior Austin Donoho, who followed up a pair of walks to the hitters ahead of him with a walk-off home run over the left-field fence.
With the runner on second representing the tying run, Donoho watched the first two pitches sail by without swinging. But when Lutheran pitcher Johnny Sanchez offered the 1-1 pitch, Donoho sat back on it and ended the Big Northern West game with one ferocious swing.
“I just got a good pitch, and put a good swing on it, and it went out,” Donoho said. “We just had to stay patient and put some good swings on the ball, and only swing at strikes. All season, we have been resilient; it’s just keep fighting, and having a will to win.”
While they’ll always take a win, the Rockets (8-7, 3-3) still have plenty to work on to get where they would like to be.
“I give the kids credit that we came back and did some good things,” coach Donnie Chappell said.
“But we had one-half of an inning. We continue to do the same things, whether it’s walk people when we’re up by three runs, missing a ground ball with the bases loaded, baserunning mistakes, whatever. As soon as we turn a corner, it seems like we go backward.”
“There’s room for improvement everywhere,” Donoho added modestly. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hitting, pitching, or fielding. Everything can improve.”
Lutheran opened up the scoring game, taking a 2-0 lead after two at-bats. Rock Falls responded in its half of the second, as designated hitter Cayden Erickson bombed a three-run shot over the left-field fence to give his team a 3-2 lead.
“I just went up there thinking, ‘Hit it hard, and get it in play,’” Erickson said. “As soon as I made contact, I knew it was gone. It just felt like too good of a hit.
“We all hit the ball pretty solid. I like the way our lineup is set up. We have a lot of speed on our team, so a lot of people get on base. The bottom of the order can hit them in, too.”
The Rockets built their lead, adding a pair of runs in both the third and fourth innings to take a 7-4 lead heading into the fifth inning.
The Crusaders then battled back, taking advantage of a combination of errors, walks, and hits to score seven straight runs in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings to snag an 11-7 lead.
“I was glad to see that,” Lutheran coach Neal Bertram said. “We’re fighting and trying to get over the hump. I’m definitely encouraged by it, but we needed some killer instinct there at the end, and to add on even more when we can. We gave up way too many extra outs.”
In the bottom of the seventh, leadoff hitter Trace Hippen drew a walk. After a strikeout, he was thrown out on Erickson’s fielder’s choice. Clay Velazquez hit a double to drive in Erickson, then advanced to third and scored on an error by the shortstop, who threw over the first baseman’s head out of play on a grounder from Dustin Huycke.
Two passed balls scored Huycke from second, cutting the Rockets’ deficit to 11-10. A pair of walks to Dallas Jones and Jacob Mammosser set the stage for Donoho’s final heroics at the plate.
“We are swining the bats better, and I think that is the good thing right now,” Chappell said.” It’s getting better, but we just have so much more to work on, and hopefully we can get there.”
Rock Falls 13, Rockford Lutheran 11
Star of the game: Austin Donoho, Rock Falls, 4-5, 4 RBI, Walk off 3-R HR.
Key Performers: Johnny Sanchez, Lutheran, 3-5, 2-R HR, 4 RBI. Cayden Erickson, RF, 1-3, 3-R HR, 3 RBI.