On a chilly and wind-swept Saturday, the Alleman Pioneers and Rock Island Rocks' bats were hot in a Western Big 6 Conference baseball doubleheader at Rock Island High School.
In Alleman's 15-9 and 8-5 sweep, the teams combined for 37 runs on 49 hits. Alleman's balanced offense was led by Justin Hauer (4-for-7, home run, double, and an RBI), Mitch VanNatta (4-for-8, RBI), Elliott Kelso (4-for-9, 2 RBIs), Evan Garrett (3-for-6, 2 RBIs) and Jake Hemmen (3-for-7, two-run homer, two doubles).
While Alleman jumped off to early leads in both games, the Rocks refused to quit.
The Pioneers took an 8-0 lead into the bottom of the second of the opener and looked as if they may finish off Rocky via the mercy rule. Failing to do so was about the only negative Alleman coach Chris Lemon could find as his team moved to 17-4 and wrapped up a second-place Big 6 finish with an 8-2 record. Moline (18-5, 9-1) secured the crown with a sweep of Galesburg.
"We had a chance to put them away in five (innings), but part of that credit goes to Rock Island," he said. "In the postseason, if you play just well enough to win, it can bite you."
"Our guys respect the game enough that no matter the situation they continue to go hard," Rock Island coach Andy Campbell said. "Our guys don't back down and they didn't today."
Rock Island's biggest threat in Game 1 came when the Rocks cut the Pioneer lead to 9-6 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Brinn Bell singled home a run to get to within three, but David Johnson was caught in a rundown going from second base to third base before Rocky leadoff hitter Tyler Allison had a chance to chip away at the lead even more.
Alleman struck first once again in the nightcap when it scored two in the opening frame. Rock Island (14-13, 3-7 WB6) tied the game in the bottom half of the second, but the Pioneers responded with two more in the third. They finished by adding a run in each of the next four innings.
"Rock Island is a young team and very scrappy and they didn't quit," Lemon said. "But it seemed every time they made a run, the very next inning we answered."
Trailing 7-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Rocks opened up the inning with three consecutive singles. With Mike Wieland represented the go-ahead run for the Rocks at the plate, Lemon decided to mix things up by pulling starter John Peters and bringing in Hauer in relief. Facing the bases-load, nobody-out jam, Hauer managed to give up just one run, that on Wieland's sacrifice fly.
"I'm just thinking try to get outs," said Hauer. "It's nerve-wracking, but you just have to stay confident."
"Justin (Hauer) is an absolute gamer," Lemon said. "He's the guy you want on the mound in a tight situation and the guy you want up to bat with two outs."
These two teams will battle once again in the first round of regional play later this month.
"They saw us, we saw them, and there are no secrets," Campbell said. "Whoever plays best on that day is going to win."
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