The United Township and Rock Island high school baseball teams both exited their wind-whipped opening Western Big 6 Conference doubleheader with some positives to carry over into the rest of the season.
Each also left knowing what problem areas need to be improved upon.
The hosting Panthers rolled to an 8-1 victory in the first game of Saturday's league doubleheader, but the Rocks bounced back in Game 2, scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning to win 5-4 and gain the split.
“In the first game, we played solid baseball in all facets — offense, defense and pitching, led by an outstanding job on the mound for us by Davian Vallejo,” said UT Coach Mike Meyers. “And in the second game, we had chances to pick up the win for the sweep, and our guys battled and kept us right there, but a few problems fielding the ball in the wind, and a good job by Rock Island to manufacture a run in the seventh led to the split.”
Rock Island coach Jake Scudder would have preferred a cleaner effort from his team in the first game, but was pleased with its ability to re-focus and pull out the victory in the second.
“We got behind in the first game, had problems fielding the ball and getting on base, and it’s hard to come back against a good team like UT on their home diamond,” said Scudder. “Between games we focused on making better decisions at the plate, our pitchers were able to get ahead in the count, we remained positive, our guys did a great job of putting a run on the board in the seventh, and Brycen McGarry shut-down UT in the final two innings to pick up the win for us.”
With the two-game split, United Township’s record stands at 4-4-1 on the season and 1-1 in the Big 6. Rock Island is 10-2, also 1-1 in the conference.
UT scored three runs in the first inning of the opening game on RBIs by Davin Thiem, Jack Risius and Isaac Graf. The Panthers added two additional runs in the second inning on RBIs by the starting pitcher, Vallejo, and catcher Reid Murphy and tallied three more in the fourth on RBIs by Murphy, Thiem and Risius.
“We were able to put multiple runs on the board three times in the game," Meyers said. "I was especially pleased by the way our guys ran the bases and worked to get into scoring position, and we took advantage of our opportunities.”
Vallejo was overpowering for UT, going 6.1 innings with 10 strikeouts and only one walk to gain the win. Alec Lemaster closed out the seventh for the Panthers.
Rocky scored its run in the first game on an RBI single by second baseman Colton Sigel in the third inning, plating right fielder Connor Dilulio.
Game 2 opened with UT scoring one run in each of the first two innings, on RBIs by Thiem and shortstop Ethan Harrison. Rock Island tied the game in the third inning on a two-RBI single by left fielder Tyler Hansen, scoring Dylan Martin and Sigel.
In the fourth inning, Rocky plated a run on an RBI by Dilulio, but UT countered with a run-scoring single by Harrison. Each team also scored in the fifth inning, the Rocks with an RBI from Hansen and the Panthers with a run-scoring single off the bat of third baseman Julio Tapia.
For Rock Island in the top of the seventh, Martin came through with a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Dilulio from third after he walked to open the inning. McGarry notched the win for the Rocks in relief of starting pitcher, Dylan Martin.
“Brycen McGarry has been consistent and tough for us all season, he puts the ball in the strike zone and dares the opposition to do what they can with it,” said Scudder. “We came away with a split, but we need to focus on the strengths of our game, which are aggressiveness at the plate, baserunning and solid defense going forward as the season progresses.”
Meyers is looking forward to the coming week as a solid test for his team.
“We have conference games with Moline and Geneseo, and we play a great deal of baseball in the next week and the following week, so I am challenging our team to work hard and improve in the quieter parts of the game, such as infield defense and putting together quality at-bats, the ingredients for winning consistently,” he said.