STERLING – Dixon baseball coach Sam Gallucci has been coaching high school baseball for 17 seasons, and has seen just about everything – until Thursday.
Dixon and Sterling entered Thursday's Northern Illinois Big 12 West Division game with identical records, and after nearly 2 hours of play, the two teams left Gartner Park with identical records.
The teams tied, 2-2.
"This is the first time I've ever been involved in a tie," Gallucci said. "This is unusual."
Sterling starting pitcher Turner Morse threw one pitch in the top half of the eighth before the game was forced into a 30-minute delay after a loud clap of thunder was heard.
Within seconds of Morse's fastball popping in catcher Zach Rehmert's mitt for a high strike, thunder rumbled throughout the sky, forcing the umpires to take action.
The storm looked fast-moving, and the players expected to finish the game, but Gallucci and Golden Warriors coach Nick Pepper met with umpires on the infield and checked weather projections before deciding to end the game.
It will not be made up. There is a rule that allows conference games to end in a tie, though it is rare. Scheduling conflicts, which have cropped up due to other rainouts earlier in the season, have made finding a time to restart Thursday's game difficult.
"It does feel weird," Sterling's Brandon Dennis said. "I mean, it's Dixon. We're only 15 minutes away. Its tough to leave without finishing this."
Dennis did his best to finish the game, however, as he played a crucial role the bottom of the seventh. The Golden Warriors (5-14-1) trailed 2-0 since the first inning, but put together a rally.
Keegan Wellman, pinch-hitting for Esteban Sosa, led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to right field. Quinten Borum popped up to the pitcher for the first out before Rehmert singled through the left side.
With two runners on, Frankie Perino singled home Wellman to cut the deficit to 2-1, and moved Rehmert to third. Dennis was then tasked with a suicide squeeze bunt.
He took a low and outside pitch and bunted it down the first-base line to bring home the tying run. Perino was thrown out trying to reach third after the run scored to send the game into extra innings.
"I was a little nervous," Pepper said of the calling for a bunt. "Dennis did a great job and got it down. Unfortunately, we made some baserunning miscues at the end, but I'm proud we fought and got those two runs to send it into extras."
Sterling made several baserunning errors throughout the game, including having two runners thrown out at home. Pepper attributed the miscues on the basepaths to an aggressive approach only being down two runs.
"I don't mind being aggressive," Pepper said. "That's what we wanted to do. Sometimes we have to be smarter, but aggressiveness doesn't bother me."
Dixon scored two runs in the first inning, as Connor Sperling hit an RBI sacrifice fly to score Angelo Valdes, and A.J. Murdock doubled home Cal Jarrett two batters later.
It was all the Dukes (5-14-1) would get, as Morse settled in and allowed just one hit the rest of the way. He finished with 11 strikeouts and walked none, while giving up four hits in seven innings – and one pitch in the eighth.
Dixon starter Mitchel Wolfe was similarly dominant, going seven innings while scattering eight hits and striking out five.
But no matter how well either team played, they couldn't beat the weather.
"Obviously, a tie isn't what we want," Pepper said.
Star of the game: Turner Morse, Sterling, 7 IP, 11 K, 4 H, 2 ER
Key performers: Brandon Dennis, Sterling, 2-for-3, RBI; Mitch Wolfe, Dixon, 7 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K; A.J. Murdock, Dixon, 1-for-3, double, RBI
Up next: Dixon at Oregon (2), 10 a.m. Saturday; Sterling at Ottawa, 4:30 p.m. Monday