For 20 outs of Friday's Bridges Catering Rock Town Showdown, the Rock Island baseball team was unable to forge ahead against intercity rival Alleman.
However, that 21st and final out would prove to be beyond the Pioneers' grasp. After the Rocks tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning on Bryce Trask's one-out single, Austin Ford legged out an infield hit with two outs, and pinch-runner Spencer Hasselroth tried to take an extra base, taking off for third.
The throw to get Hasselroth was errant, and he was able to pick himself up and race home to give Rock Island a thrilling 6-5 victory at Douglas Park. The win is the second in three Rock Town Showdown contests for the Rocks (10-17-1).
"It was a 3-2 count with two outs (on Ford's hit), so I knew I'd be going with the pitch," said Hasselroth. "I saw the third baseman (Jono Berry) coming in, and the shortstop (Zach Carpita) was moving to cover third. After I got to second, I had the green light, so I took off and caught a lucky break."
The inning began with a single by shortstop Charlie Allison, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and finished a triple shy of hitting for the circle. After Vincent Esposito bunted Allison to second, Trask singled to right-center field to bring Rocky even at 5-5.
"I got up there, and it was my second opportunity to get Charlie in," said Trask, who had grounded out in the bottom of the fifth to end the inning with Allison on second and the Rocks down 5-3. "Charlie led off by getting on base, and Vinny did his job and laid down the bunt to move him over, so I knew I needed to get him in.
"I was familiar with their pitcher (reliever Collin Snyder). I got a good pitch down the middle, and it was an exciting play for me. This win is kind of the kick-start we need to get momentum going into the postseason."
Despite taking the loss, Alleman coach Jerry Burkhead looked on the positive side of things, feeling Friday's game was one the Pioneers needed before opening Class 2A regional play next week.
"This was a good game to take into the postseason," said Burkhead. "The feeling the kids have in their stomachs now, they don't want to feel that next week. I like how after the game, this bothered us. I thought we played a solid game up until the very end."
In the sixth, Rock Island had closed the gap to 5-4 on another timely two-out knock, with Carson James singling in Tyler Lampkin. Trailing 4-1 going into the bottom of the third, Rocky chipped away on an Allison RBI double and an RBI single by Lampkin (2-for-3) in the fourth, making it a one-run game.
Relieving starting pitcher Esposito in the third, Alec Straw overcame five walks and a fifth-inning Alleman run to pick up his first win of the season. He scattered five hits in five innings and finished with five strikeouts, and left Pioneers stranded in scoring position in three of his five innings.
"The zone was a little tight, so I was trying to be aggressive and throw strikes," said Straw. "Throw things to make them hit the ball, and the defense picked me up. Alleman is a solid-hitting team, and they were definitely a challenge. They worked the count and got my pitch count up, but I was able to battle back."
Playing its regular-season finale, Alleman (22-13) struck in the top of the first on a Carpita RBI groundout that scored Nate Sheets (3-for-3). In the home half of the inning, Allison hit a towering home run over the right-field fence to make it a 1-1 game.
The Pioneers broke that tie when Xavier Lara scored on a wild pitch in the top of the second. An inning later, Alleman got a two-run single from Carpita (2-for-4, three RBIs) to take its biggest lead at 4-1 and end Esposito's start after just two-plus innings.
"This was a good high school game between two competitive teams," Burkhead said. "Beautiful weather, and a good crowd. This game had a postseason feeling."