The Rock Island High School baseball team was just one out away from Wednesday night’s Bender/Lindauer Battle for the Douglas Cup game against Moline ending early by the 10-run mercy rule.
The Rocks, however, did not lie down at Douglas Park.
Chipping away run by run against seven Moline pitchers, Rocky was able to force extra innings and beat the Maroons 12-11 in nine innings to earn the walk-off win and grab the Douglas Cup for a third straight year. The Battle for the Douglas Cup is sponsored by Bridges Catering.
Moline (20-6) led 11-0 after four innings before the Rocks (14-8) came back.
Rocky senior Stephen Dillender smacked the game-winning single into center field before being mobbed by his teammates at first base.
“We never gave up,” Dillender said. “We were down 11 to nothing, we got that big inning in the (fifth) and we just rolled on from there and kept going, kept going, and kept getting more excited, hyped. And kept going.”
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A win looked improbable after the Rocks were not sharp in multiple areas early on.
Moline’s Alex Schimmel cranked a leadoff home run and the Maroons scored at least two runs in the first four innings.
Meanwhile, the Rocks were committing errors, giving up hard contact, and had just two hits in four innings against Moline pitchers Chase Stephens and Conner Schimmel.
Things started to turn when Rocky scored five runs in the fifth against Maddux Dieckman.
Rocky pitcher Mark Jackson was instrumental in relief and settling the team down after digging such a big hole. He pitched 4 ⅔ innings and allowed no runs, three hits, no walks and struck out three. Conner Diiulio pitched a one-hit ninth for Rocky to snag the home win on a picture-perfect night.
The Rocks scored once in the sixth before a five-run seventh against the Western Big 6 Conference leaders.
“We were feeling it,” Dillender said. “We knew we were coming back and Mark absolutely did amazing on the mound today.”
Dillender’s game-winning hit came after Owen Michaels was intentionally walked with one out to load the bases. Looking for a fast ball, Dillender got his pitch against Schimmel.
“I just was ready for it, on time, and drove it right up the middle,” he said.
When Jackson entered in relief, his thoughts were, “How could it get worse?"
“It couldn’t get worse,” he said. “I just went out with the mentality that I can just throw strikes and let anything happen, just happen.”
The junior right-hander, who lets out a grunt with each pitch, slowly began to realize a win may be possible. Helping his team accomplish it was big for his confidence.
“I’m a guy that struggles with my confidence,” he said. “Coming in there and grunting like I did, it’s something new for me. I only did it because I was told I was a finesse pitcher. But I do that so I can throw harder and worry less about how to throw the pitch.”
The approach worked against a dangerous Moline lineup.
The Maroons tallied 12 hits in four innings before going cold against Jackson.
Moline had its chances to slam the door shut, including the seventh inning with a four-run lead.
Looking to stop the bleeding, Alex Schimmel was called for a balk with two outs that scored the game-tying run. Moline coach Craig Schimmel was not happy with the call and went onto the field to let the umpire know.
“Never seen that before,” he said. “Especially in a situation where there’s a foul ball and I don’t even know if the ball had been put back in play yet.
“Tough to have something like that happen because I thought he came in and competed and got two strikeouts, which is what he came into the game to do. Just didn’t work out. But again, that’s baseball.”
Alex Schimmel and Hunter Warren each had three RBI to lead Moline. Nick Janssen had a bases-clearing double and four RBI and Aidan Brokaw and Dillender each knocked in two for Rocky.
Rock Island coach Jake Scudder said the approach was to just get one run at a time after the game nearly slipped completely away.
“Credit to our guys,” he said. “They didn’t get down. Stayed together and understood that one swing wasn’t going to win it. We needed to hang up some zeros and that’s what Mark Jackson did.
“And we found a way to claw back into it, so it was a really good win for us.”
The Rocks have taken losses, but they continue to stay competitive and not get blown out, a key trait for being able to come back.
“It’s a really, really fun group,” Scudder said. “They play together, they play for each other, nobody is really worried about stats or who is the big dog. Just find a way to win games.”
The Rocks found a way against their biggest rival in a game that also honors two accomplished late coaches in Moline’s Derek Lindauer and Rocky’s Gary Bender.
“That’s a great ball team to come back against 11 to nothing; extremely hard to do,” Dillender said. “We just fought the entire way against them.”