SHERRARD — In the first meeting between the Sherrard and Rockridge baseball teams, a three-run lead after three innings wound up being the difference in a narrow victory for the Tigers.
When the teams met for Friday afternoon's rematch at the Joel Brunsvold Complex, the combination of a five-run third inning by Sherrard and eight Rockridge errors added up to a more one-sided outcome as the Tigers rolled to an 11-1, five-inning victory.
"(Tuesday), they were going away from us with fastballs, so we started talking about our approach at the plate," said Sherrard coach Nick Basala, referring to his 4-5 club's 6-4 win over the Rockets at Edgington earlier in the week.
"We started hitting their fastballs, we got some balls to drop for hits and got some confidence, and we were able to break the game open."
Friday's victory enables the Tigers to sweep their two-game set with Rockridge which, coupled with a pair of wins over Orion, has them off to a 4-0 start in the Three Rivers Conference's West Division.
Rockridge tied the game at 1-1 when Evan DeKeyrel drove in Nolan Thomas in the top of the third, but Sherrard's outburst in its half of the inning turned the tide as the Rockets (2-6) fall to 1-3 in conference play.
"It was one of those days when we couldn't do much right on the defensive side," said Rockridge coach Josh Gibbs. "You can't give a team like Sherrard extra chances. After playing a close game (Tuesday), it was disappointing for us to come here and not have our best."
Making sure the Rockets were not at their best at the plate Friday was senior pitching ace Brady Hartman.
He tossed a two-hitter and gave up just the one unearned run, finishing with eight strikeouts to improve to 2-0. At the plate, Hartman also helped himself by going 2-for-3 with a solo home run and two RBIs.
"I would say that before the game, warming up and getting ready, my arm felt good right from the get-go," said Hartman. "Throwing in the bullpen, all of my pitches were working, so I knew I'd have my full arsenal today."
Hartman feels that the Tigers' nonconference slate, with games against Western Big 6 members Alleman, Rock Island and United Township, has helped them prepare for a potential title run in the Three Rivers West this spring.
"Playing those Big 6 teams early on has mentally and physically prepared us for the rest of what lies ahead in the conference," he stated.
"Even though we were 0-4 in those games, we've really grown, and we keep growing as a team," added Basala, whose squad's other loss was a 9-8 setback to TRAC East member Peru St. Bede. "We're starting to put it together and taking advantage in the TRAC West."
Sherrard gave their ace an early 1-0 lead to work with on a first-inning RBI single by Blake Lingafelter (2-for-3, two RBIs). Apart from the third-inning blemish, Hartman stayed in control throughout the game.
"When they tied it up I still had confidence in my team," he said. "I knew we'd get more runs. The next thing, we got five, and that felt good to have a comfortable lead."
In the bottom of the third, Lingafelter's second RBI and a pair of Rockridge errors helped the Tigers go up by three before a two-run single by Gage Carter capped the uprising and gave the hosts a comfortable 6-1 advantage.
The Tigers continued to tack on, with Hartman's fourth-inning homer and an RBI double by Will Franck extending their lead to 8-1. They then tallied three times in the bottom of the fifth to bring the game to its end.
For his part, Gibbs felt bad for his starting pitcher, T.J. Ulfig (1-1). Ulfig allowed six runs on four hits, but none of those runs were earned. He tallied five strikeouts.
"T.J.'s had some bad luck two times out in the past week," said Gibbs. "He threw a great game against Riverdale (in an 8-7 Rocket loss just over a week ago) and should've won, and the same thing today. He threw strikes and gave us a chance."