BIG ROCK – There are always going to be those games where a team just has to take runs any way they can get them, Wednesday afternoon at Kenny Field was one of those games for Hinckley-Big Rock.
The Royals were able to score the winning run on a passed ball with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat Hiawatha, 5-4, and keep their hopes of a Little Ten Conference championship intact.
H-BR senior Luke Winkle singled with one out in the final frame, stole both second and third around an out and then crossed the plate after the final pitch went to the backstop.
“There are days like today when you have to manufacture runs, today the playbook was open,” said H-BR coach Brad Unger, whose club stayed even with Somonauk in league play, each with just one loss. “Hey, a win's a win. We tip our hats to Hiawatha, they played well and we may see them again in the postseason on more time.”
Hiawatha (9-4-1, 9-3-1 LTC) took a 1-0 lead in the first on a bases-loaded fielder's choice by Tyler Burger. The home team answered thanks to a two-out error in the bottom half to tie the game and took a 2-1 lead via another Hawk error in the second. Burger added a sacrifice fly in the third to knot things up again.
“Our kids battled and I thought played well,” said Hiawatha coach Sean Donnelly, whose club out-hit H-BR 9-6. “(Last Friday) we played them and for the first five innings we played very timid, but today we came out loose and that helped, especially playing one of the top teams in the conference. It just came down to a couple plays here or there, but that's what happens in one-run games.”
H-BR (14-5, 12-1 LTC) plated a pair of runs in the fifth to go up 4-2, one on a delayed double steal and the other on a run-scoring single from Adam Joyner off of Hawk starter Mike Mercado, who gave up just five hits in six innings. He didn't allow an earned run while walking four and striking out four.
“He is a battler,” Donnelly said of Mercado. “His control isn't always pinpoint, but he did a great job today.”
The visitors battled back using four hits in the sixth off of Royal starter Dutch Schneeman to score two runs on RBI hits from Taylor Edwards and Ed Canchola to make it 4-4.
“We didn't really know what he was going to be able to give us,” said Unger of his sophomore pitcher, who was coming off an injury in his last start. “He made some outstanding plays with his glove as well as his arm to keep us in the ballgame. He had some control issues in the sixth there, but he was getting tired. He has been our ace all year and he proved it here again with his performance today.”
The Hawks were able to put runners on first and second with just one out in the seventh, but Royal reliever and winning pitcher Jacob Ryan was able to strike out the next two batters, setting up things for the final half inning.
“Today was an ugly win, but a good win,” said Royal catcher Mitch Ruh, who reached base three of four times, twice with singles. “We made the plays when we had to and picked each other up, that's what it takes sometimes to win ballgames.”