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Prep baseball: Big Red rally creates split with Comets

CENTERVILLE — So many times this season, the Centerville baseball team seemed to fall victim to the big inning during an 0-10 start.

On Friday, just two days after finally securing their first win of the season, the Big Reds found themselves on the positive side of a big rally. Trailing 8-2 entering the final inning of the opening game of a South Central Conference baseball doubleheader against Cardinal, Centerville stormed all the way back scoring seven runs in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with a thrilling comeback win over the Comets using nine hits over the final frame culminating with a two-out RBI single to right by Conner Lancaster to walk off with a 9-8 win in the most memorable game yet in Bill Huisman's second term as Centerville's head baseball coach.

"That was a lot of fun. You don't like to find yourselves in that position too often, but these guys have fought back all season," Huisman said. "You just never know for sure. We've been close in that situation before, but we haven't quite been able to finish it out."

The most recent example of that came earlier in the week when Centerville nearly erased a five-run deficit in the final inning against Ottumwa. After being shut out over the first six innings, the Big Reds scored four runs on four hits and two walks in the bottom of the seventh ultimately coming within a hit of completing the comeback before falling 5-4 last Tuesday against the Bulldogs.

While the loss was Centerville's 10th straight to open the season, it was also an encouraging sign, according to Huisman. The Big Reds carried that momentum over to a 3-1 win over Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont on Wednesday, highlighted by a two-hit complete-game effort on the mound by Logan Caraccio and a two-hit effort at the plate by Lancaster, who scored two of the three Big Red runs in the team's first win of the season.

"We've played some tough competition this year, so that's always hard especially when you're starting off 0-10," Lancaster said. "We've had the ability to bounce back. Being that close against a big school like Ottumwa, making it a one-run game in the last inning, gave us a lot of confidence. One pitch could have changed that whole game.

"Then, to come back out the next night and beat Eddyville (EBF), felt pretty good."

Centerville needed two similar comebacks to get a doubleheader sweep against Cardinal on Friday. The Comets, however, made a five-run lead stick in the seventh putting away an 8-3 win in game two over the Big Reds as Cayden Courtney tagged out Jager White at second base on a stolen base attempt after leading Cardinal at the plate with three hits and two runs driven in.

"I came up for the first at-bat of the (second) game really mad and just hammered it," Courtney said. "Our hitting has been way better this week. Guys are coming around and we're finding the holes to get on base. Hopefully, we can keep the energy we played with the second game going into next week."

Ultimately, both baseball teams gained a lot from the past week. While Centerville secured its first two wins of the season, including an amazing comeback on Friday, Cardinal bounced back to secure three wins in four games including an impressive 12-3 win over previously-unbeaten Clarke on Wednesday helping bring six teams within three games of the lead in the SCC standings.

"I think we're in a really good spot, especially with out starting pitching," Cardinal head baseball coach Ryan Renfrew said. "The boys responded to the challenge. They didn't let one bad inning define the entire night. We were able to outlast Centerville in the second game, hanging enough runs on them early that it gave me a lot of confidence we'd be able to hang on as long as kept the ball in front of us.

"If you'd have told me at the beginning of last week that going 4-0 was even close to being a possibility for us considering how we've started the season, I'd have thought that would be a pretty daunting challenge. We've been in every game we've played. We have not been beaten badly by anyone. We've been right on the verge of figuring out how to win."

Having gained wins and confidence, both Cardinal (4-8, 2-7 SCC) and Centerville (2-11, 2-4 SCC) will be back on the diamond with chances to build on their momentum. After hosting Albia in a conference doubleheader on Monday, Centerville travels to Davis County on Tuesday after the Mustangs faced the Comets on Monday for an SCC doubleheader just south of the Eldon Y.