Less than a week before opening its Class 3A postseason run, the Rock Island baseball team got to play its second-to-last regular season doubleheader in an appropriate setting for the Memorial Day weekend.
Highlighting a season that has included three games at historic Douglas Park, the Rocks took the field at Modern Woodmen Park on the Davenport riverfront for a Saturday evening nonconference twin bill against Chicago Heights Marian Catholic.
While Rock Island's two games at the home of the Quad Cities River Bandits did not turn out like it hoped, falling 14-3 in the opener and 12-3 in the second contest, the experience itself was a nice reward for first-year head coach Jake Scudder's 14-13 club.
"As a program, we've always taken pride in giving our kids the best opportunities this year," said Scudder. "We got to play three games at Douglas this year, under the lights, and that makes for a good atmosphere. This is an awesome way to wrap it up, and see where we're at as a team against another 3A squad."
According to Scudder, Saturday's doubleheader against the Spartans (15-16) was arranged just prior to the start of the season.
With the fourth-seeded Rocks opening their regional schedule next Friday at Augustana's Swanson-Brunner Stadium, taking on Western Big 6 rival Geneseo in a 7 p.m. contest, this experience is coming at the right time.
"We got this set up right before the year started; Marian reached out to us about getting a doubleheader set up (at Modern Woodmen)," he said. "I thought it'd be a good experience for both sides, and a good test for us right before the postseason starts."
As far as Saturday's on-field outcomes, those were not what the Rocks needed as they continue to try to regain the form they showed in opening the season with five straight wins en route to a 10-2 start.
"It's been up and down, that's for sure," said Scudder. "Our pitchers have needed to find a way to be more in the strike zone, and we've been better at that the last week or so. Offensively, we give ourselves opportunities, we just need to get better at cashing them in.
"Getting hits with two strikes on us, that was something we were doing better at around the beginning of the year, but have been struggling a bit with lately."
Trying to bounce back for a split after the first-game loss, Rock Island found itself looking at an early three-run deficit before getting within 3-1 when Colton Sigel scored on a two-out passed ball in the bottom of the second inning.
With Dylan Martin giving Rocky six solid innings on the mound, the teams exchanged runs in the third and sixth innings, with the Rocks getting within two twice on an unearned third-inning run and again at 5-3 on Julian Harris's RBI double late. However, the Spartans broke the nightcap open with a seven-run seventh.
In the opener, the Spartans struck quickly against Rocky starting pitcher Harris on a first-inning RBI single by Frankie Trevino. Marian Catholic then cut loose for four runs in the top of the third, the key blow being a two-run double by Jonah Weathers.
The Rocks tried to respond in their half of the third, loading the bases with two outs and with Sigel (2-for-4) at the plate, but Marian starter Justin Johnson retired Sigel to end the threat. From there the Spartans scored twice more in the fourth to go up 7-0 and continued to tack on runs in their remaining at-bats.