ROCK FALLS – The Rock Falls Rockets were in a bit of a giving mood Tuesday afternoon, handing the Oregon Hawks a pair of fourth-inning runs.
But the Hawks returned the favor in the sixth, as the Rockets plated the go-ahead run and an insurance run on a two-out throwing error in a 4-2 Big Northern West victory at home.
"We took advantage of a couple of their mistakes in the fourth inning," Oregon coach Adam Albrecht said, "but they put the pressure on us in the sixth, and we gave them a couple of runs back."
Rock Falls (14-9, 6-5) put pressure on the Oregon defense all game long, but it wasn't until the sixth inning that the Rockets finally benefitted from it.
With the score tied 2-2, Quinton Matznick led off with a walk. Trace Hippen followed with a bunt between the pitcher's mound and the first-base line, and beat it out when the first baseman couldn't get back to the bag in time for the throw.
Reid Akerman laid down another bunt, but Matznick was thrown out at third. Austin Donoho rolled a grounder to short, but beat out the relay to avoid the double play, putting runners on the corners with two outs.
The speedy Dustin Huycke then laid down the Rockets' third bunt of the inning, this one deadened perfectly down the third-base line. Oregon catcher Joey Rowe pounced on it, but Huycke's speed forced an errant throw down the right-field line. Hippen scored from third, Donoho came all the way around from first to score, and Huycke ended up on third, where he was stranded after Mammosser's groundout to end the inning.
"I knew Dustin was going to lay down the bunt, and I knew once he got it down that his speed was going to make them rush the play a little bit," said Donoho, who finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, an RBI, and two runs scored. "The bunt was perfect, and I just took off; I was glancing behind me to see what was happening at first, so I saw the throw get away, then I just heard Donnie telling me to keep going."
Rock Falls reliever Cayden Erickson then got out of a mini-jam in the top of the seventh to secure the victory. Rowe singled off the pitcher's glove for the second time in the game, then Adam Bettner reached on an error at third. But Erickson got a grounder to short for a fielder's choice, then Huycke tracked down a line drive off the bat of Sawyer Reynolds into right-center field for the final out.
Erickson pitched the final four innings after Donoho struck out three without a walk in three scoreless innings to start. Erickson struck out seven, walked one and hit two batters while allowing one earned run.
"I just came in and tried to hit my spots and rely on my defense," Erickson said. "A couple of times we let guys on base, but I just tried to focus and not let those runs come around to score. We pulled through today."
Erickson's first inning was a rough one for the Rockets, as Oregon (7-16, 3-8) tied the score with a pair of runs. Mason Smith led off with a single, then Reynolds reached when a hot grounder went through Hippen's legs at first. The Hawks loaded the bases when Tyler Blume's grounder took a bad hop to Donoho at shortstop.
Erickson got a strikeout, but then hit Luke Ziegler with a pitch to force in Smith. Josh Cook followed with a sacrifice fly to center to knock in Reynolds, then Paul Rypkema drew a two-out walk. But Erickson escaped further damage and preserved the tie with a strikeout to end the inning.
"We had a handful of chances," Albrecht said, "but we just couldn't get that timely hit. Then, in the sixth, they lay down a great bunt, and we probably should have just held onto it and not made that throw to first; they'd have the bases loaded, but we would've put the pressure back on their offense to come up with another two-out hit.
"But that happens, and I like the way we battled for seven innings today. It's a good sign going into the postseason."
Rock Falls jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, as Donoho singled, stole second and scored on Mammosser's RBI single in the first inning. Donoho then drove in Reid Akerman with a double in the second, after Akerman beat out a grounder with two outs for an infield single.
Smith gave up those two earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, striking out two, walking one and hitting a batter. Taylor Brubaker took the loss in relief, giving up two unearned runs, one hit and one walk in an inning and two-thirds.
The Rockets ran themselves out of golden opportunities to put the game away in the third, fourth and fifth innings, making four of those nine outs on the basepaths. They stranded eight, with at least one runner left on base in every inning.
"We did enough to win today," Donoho said, "but it's not all about the wins and losses. It's more how you go about it, doing the little things to make the difference, and we didn't do a great job of that for most of the game. We have to get better, more consistent, especially for the postseason."
Rock Falls 4, Oregon 2
Star of the game: Austin Donoho, RF, 3-for-4, 2 2Bs, 2 runs, RBI; starting pitcher, 3 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 3 SO
Key performers: Cayden Erickson, RF, win in relief, 4 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 H, 7 SO, 1 BB, 2 HBP; Trace Hippen, RF, 2-for-3, scored go-ahead run in 6th; Joey Rowe, Oregon, 3 hits; Mason Smith, Oregon, 1-for-3, run, stolen base
Up next: Rock Falls at Oregon, 4:30 p.m. today