ROCK ISLAND -- Sometimes the most memorable moments come at the most unexpected time.|
United Township baseball's shortstop Bryce Luken picked the most opportunistic time to hit his first career varsity home run on Saturday.
Trailing Rock Island, 6-3 with two outs in the top of the seventh, Luken stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded. What happened next was something nobody in the ballpark expected. Luken delivered a clutch go-ahead grand slam, sending the Panthers to a 7-6 win in their Western Big 6 Conference opener.
"I'm excited I got it out, but wasn't expecting it," said Luken, who was filled with emotions after Game 1. "I had seen the ball well all day."
Luken was 6-for-8 -- with a pair of doubles and the home run -- on the day as United Township (7-2-1, 1-1 WB6) split with the Rocks. He was given the nod as the starting pitcher in Game 2. Rock Island won that one, 4-0 while Luken pitched six innings, allowing four hits and four runs (two earned) with a walk and five strikeouts.
"I was feeling pretty good, but our team just struggled putting the ball in play," Luken said. "It was good in the first game, but you have to put that past you. I was just trying to give the team the best chance to win. I wasn't good enough in the second game, but we'll get it back next weekend."
What was almost as impressive as Luken's stellar day was how Rock Island (6-9-1, 1-1 WB6) rebounded in the nightcap. It might have been easy to just pack it up and go home after the deflating loss in Game 1, but the Rocks competed.
"That was not a very good moment for us," said Bailey Gaskin, explaining the emotion after Game 1. He had a pair of RBIs and was 3-for-3 in the opener. "They had a lot of momentum, that's for sure, but we really needed to win one."
After blowing leads in three consecutive losses, Game 2 was key for Rock Island to get back on track.
"They were very upset, but I told the guys that they played well enough to win that game," said Rock Island coach Jay Wayland. "When you're out there and you have a game where it looks like your going to win and it gets away from you in the very end, they could have caved in. But they didn't."
In the nightcap, Rock Island scored twice in the second inning on Jordan Skelley's two out, two-run single. Game 2 starter Cullen George helped his own cause with a sacrifice fly in the third. Rock Island added an insurance run in the sixth when Jeff Hickman, running for George, scored from first on an errant throw up the first base line on a sacrfice bunt attempt by Trey Sigel.
George finished the complete-game shutout allowing just three hits with three strikeouts. UT only had one hit -- Luken's sixth-inning single -- after the fourth inning.
"I let them put the ball in play," said George. "Throw strikes and let them hit the ball, and let my defense do the work behind me. It was a heartbeaker (in Game 1), so we wanted to come back and make sure we got the win."