SYCAMORE — As the last sports team standing in an overly successful year for Sterling High School, its baseball team looked to end the year with a bang.
Unfortunately for them, the Burlington Central Rockets did plenty of banging during a 3A Sycamore Sectional semifinal. Golden Warriors pitchers gave up four Central home runs and a combined 13 hits in a 9-5 loss at Sycamore Park District Sports Complex.
Sterling starting pitcher Tyler Willman had trouble taking a southeast wind into effect while throwing. He gave up six earned runs and three of the Rockets’ home runs, two of which came in a three-run fourth inning – his final frame before being pulled for Nolan Sullivan for the final three innings.
“I was throwing into the wind a little bit,” Willman said. “I was missing my edges and had too many pitches over the plate, and they took advantage of them. They did well, I give them credit. They stayed in the batters box and hit [the ball well].”
Willman, Sullivan, Central starting pitcher Brandon Van Buren and reliever Clay Milas all struggled at times with keeping their pitches from going too far inside. The four pitchers combined for nine hit batsmen, and Sterling senior Turner Morse and Central senior David Lamber each got plunked twice.
Sterling (22-11) led 2-0 after one inning before Central tied it up the next inning. The eventual go-ahead run was scored on Willman’s second straight hit batsmen, which came with the bases loaded and Joshua Noeska receiving the bean.
Zach Schutta opened Central’s second inning with a solo home run to left field to cut Sterling’s lead in half, and the homer became the start of a continuing offensive barrage for the Rockets (28-9). Milas’ sacrifice fly tied the game at two.
“I really think my home run really energized our team,” Schutta said. “After that, we just kept hitting. It was just right out in front, a little inside, and I just pulled it.
“It was a really good feeling. I think i gained more confidence after that, and I think the team gained more confidence as well.”
Milas led off the fourth inning with a home run to left-center field, and Noeska hit the first of his two homers with one out and Lamber on base for a 6-2 Rockets lead.
Sterling came back in the bottom of the fourth off of Milas. Elias Edmondson collected an RBI single, and Turner Morse reached on his second beanball, which loaded the bases for Trey Morse. Trey hit a line drive to Van Buren, who had switched spots with Milas at second base and doubled up Turner Morse at first base on a close play.
Van Buren’s throw to Central first baseman Bradley Dinges was low, and Dinges couldn’t get a hold of the ball as it slowly rolled past the first base line. However, Dinges, who was already on his knees, laid down and stretched his glove hand to the ball to try and pick it up while his feet were on top of the base. The pick up of the ball barely beat out Turner Morse’s return back for the third out of the inning.
“I was trying to catch the ball, and I didn’t really look at the play,” Dinges said. “I thought I was supposed to go to second, and I just looked at first and saw him over there.”
Trey Morse and Willman each had RBIs in the sixth inning to inch the gap closer to 7-5, but Van Buren notched a seventh-inning RBI single and Noeska drew a bases-loaded walk (for his fifth RBI) to push further ahead.
“It’s a testament to these guys. They never give up,” Sterling coach Nick Pepper said. “That was a great team that we just played. They just got a few more key hits than we did, but I didn’t think we played bad at all.
“I’m super proud of these guys for this season,” Pepper added. “Hopefully we can get back here and learn from it, and see some of the younger guys step into the key roles of [seniors] Turner Morse and Elias Edmondson.”
Edmondson transferred to Sterling for his senior year while Turner Morse was a 4-year varsity player and has seen the rise of Sterling’s baseball program from only scoring a few wins a year to the record-tying 22 of this season.
Trey Morse will lead a tallented group of returning players next spring, as the Golden Warriors look to build on the success.
“It’s all about keeping the guys up, and making sure that the team stays together,” Trey Morse said. “We’re a tight-knit group this year, and we wanted to keep playing for each other. It wasn’t individual at all. Everyone looked to the left, looked to the right, and saw guys that they wanted to be with.
“We weren’t ready for us to be done.”