STERLING – Rock Falls overcame an error-filled first inning to capture a 4-2 win over rival Sterling in a 3A Sterling Regional semifinal game Thursday night.
Top-seeded Rock Falls had a rough top half of the first defensively. Sterling (9-19-1) took advantage of two errors committed by Rockets infielders to grab a 1-0 lead after the first.
"We were putting the bat on the ball, and hitting against a tough pitcher in [Austin] Donoho," Sterling senior Zach Rehmert said. "When you put the ball in play, good things are going to happen. We let them make their own mistakes, and took advantage to take an early lead in the first."
It took an inning before the Rockets (22-10) responded, but a combination of small ball and power took the lead away from the Golden Warriors for good.
Singles from Dallas Jones and Quinton Matznick started things off. Sophomore Noah Junis bunted them to second and third, but it wouldn't have mattered, as senior Dustin Huycke batted them in with a line drive into the right-center gap.
He used his speed to get a standing triple. Donoho, a fellow senior, batted in Huycke on the next pitch, giving Rock Falls a 3-1 lead after two innings.
"I've been struggling the last half of the season, but the last couple of days in batting practice, Coach has told me to just hit the ball and try to pull it," Huycke said. "I just came up to bat, and swung pretty hard to get a piece of it."
Sterling cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning behind a string of singles and a passed ball.
Rehmert singled to start the inning, was bunted to second by Frankie Perino, and advanced to third on a passed ball. Sophomore Turner Morse then batted him in on a single.
The Rockets were quick to answer, scoring in the bottom of the fifth after Trace Hippen's line drive to left field was dropped, allowing Jacob Mammosser to score from third base.
"Rock Falls is always a sound, fundamental team," Sterling coach Nick Pepper said. "We got some bounces and took advantage of them. We score a run, and we talked about not letting them answer right back and take away our momentum.
"Unfortunately, we didn't do that either time we scored. I think we still played well, and it was a tough way to lose, but we were playing a lot better baseball at the end of the year than what we were in the beginning of the year."
Donoho picked up the win for Rock Falls. He didn't allow a hit and gave up one unearned run with a walk and two strikeouts in three innings. Sophomore James McFadden got the save, as he picked up the rest of the game for the Rockets, giving up one run and four hits, while striking out three and walking two.
"Any win at this point is a good win," Rock Falls coach Donnie Chappell said. "Any time you play Sterling, it adds a little something extra to the game that you really don't want in the postseason. I was really proud of them for overcoming those errors. First half of the season, that would have turned into seven or eight runs. We've grown up a lot, and hopefully we continue to do that."
Sterling's Turner Morse took the loss, going two innings, while allowing three runs and four hits. He struck out one, and walked two. Junior Rafael Escalante pitched four innings in relief and allowed one run and one hit, with a strikeout and a walk.
Star of the game: Dustin Huycke, Rock Falls, 1-2, 2 RBI 3B, R
Key performers: Rafael Escalante, Sterling, Escalante 4 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
Up next: 3A Sterling Regional championship, Rock Falls vs. Rochelle, 11 a.m Saturday