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Prep baseball: Rockets rally for split at Cardinal

May 26—ELDON — Things had been going well so far this season for the Cardinal baseball team.

Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. Wins by a combined score of 24-0 over defending 1A state champion New London and two-time reigning 2A district champion Davis County had the Comets riding high heading into Wednesday night's South Central Conference doubleheader with Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont.

For six innings on Wednesday, it appeared that Cardinal was in for more of the same success building a 10-2 lead heading into the final inning of the opening game with the Rockets. Then came a rally that helped turn the tide of the night as EBF scored eight runs in their last at-bat to tie the game and push the Comets into the bottom of the seventh.

Josh Courtney walked and ultimately scored on an errant throw home by the Rockets in the bottom of the seventh, giving Cardinal an 11-10 win in game one. The late-game comeback, however, carried over into game two as EBF scored four runs in the second inning and never looked back handing the Comets their first loss of the season with a 5-3 decision that allowed the Rockets to salvage a split against their new conference rival.

"We've been behind in a lot of innings so far, but our guys have never rolled over and quit," EBF head baseball coach Thomas Hallgren said. "We just continued to fight and put guys on base. I can't say enough about how our guys have competed in these first few games."

The Rockets were ultimately their own worst enemy in game one against Cardinal, committing eight errors that led to six unearned runs. Cayden Courtney took advantage of EBF's third error in as many innings, delivering a two-out single with the bases loaded to bring home two runs for the Comets in the third inning, snapping a 1-1 tie.

"I was just going up there to crush the ball," Cayden Courtney said after striking out looking one inning earlier. "I wasn't very happy. I just went up there to hit the ball as hard as I could."

Cardinal added to their lead in the fourth inning on an RBI double by Tatem Telfer before Cayden Courtney hit the ball hard again in the sixth with a double to center before scoring on a two-run hit by Carson Kenney, giving the Comets a 6-1 lead.

Two Comet errors in the sixth inning allowed EBF to push a run across before three more Rocket errors helped the Comets bring home four runs of insurance, seemingly putting the game out of reach. The rally, however, caused Cardinal head coach Ryan Renefrew to make a decision that might have helped EBF make its comeback after being limited to one earned run by Quinn Snyder over the first six innings.

"We had a long at-bat and Quinn was sitting at about 80 pitches," Renefrew said. "He's really good out to 50-60 pitches. I knew that, if we had a long wait, I was going to maneuver him out."

Gavin Ware struggled to find the strike zone, however, coming in to pitch in the top of the seventh. EBF coaxed a three walks and connected on a pair of hits, including a two-run triple by Kyler Ricard before a fielding error by the Comets brought in a run cutting the lead to 10-6.

"We just hit a spurt where we started getting some runs," EBF sophomore Wyatt Sandeen said. "That got us hyped up and got us going."

Cayden Courtney came on to get the next two batters, bringing the Comets within an out of clinching their third straight win. Jackson Tuller drew a walk to extend the game, bringing the tying run to the plate represented by Blake Jager who doubled into right-center field to cut Cardinal's lead to 10-9.

"It all starts off with a good hit. When someone gets that first big hit, it gets everyone in the dugout fired up," Sandeen said. "Everybody was ready to get on base and try to move everyone around."

Sandeen found himself up at the plate with the tying run in scoring position in the seventh. One pitch away from being retired to end the game, Sandeen grounded a ball that got past Comet first baseman Drake Durflinger allowing Conner Arnold to cross home plate with EBF's eighth run of the inning and 10th run of the game completely erasing Cardinal's lead.

"Everybody kept hitting and everybody kept getting around the bases," Sandeen said. "Everybody did their jobs."

Cayden Courtney finally got the final out, coaxing a groundout to second by Skyler Young keeping the Rockets from taking the lead. Courtney would end up being the game's winning pitcher as Cardinal loaded the bases with no outs before Jacob Figueroa hit a ground ball to short that resulted in a high throw to the plate looking for a force out to extend the game.

"We just had to mentally reset after that seventh inning," Telfer said after reaching on an error in the bottom of the inning. "I think that seventh inning kind of crushed us and caused us to start a little flat in the second game."

Theron Taylor connected on the first of his three hits in game two for the Rockets to get their four-run second inning started. Sandeen helped his own cause on the mound with an RBI single during the rally before making sure the lead help up allowing just two earned runs over six innings for the Rockets.

"Everybody was excited and ready to go at the start of that second game. That started from the end of that first game," Sandeen said. "Getting an early lead gave us a great boost. We got ahead and we stayed ahead."

Cardinal, however, gave themselves a chance at their own seventh-inning rally loading the bases with two outs for Figueroa. Once again, the Cardinal infielder put a ball on the ground hoping to create potential game-winning chaos.

Instead, Young picked up the ball and stepped on first without any issues, clinching the split for the Rockets and Comets.

"Things happen all the time in baseball. You just have to keep grinding out and make good things happen," Hallgren said. "This game doesn't have a clock. You have your three outs. You just have to make them last as long as you can."

Both EBF (2-4, 1-2 SCC) and Cardinal (3-1, 2-1 SCC) were back in conference action on Friday night as the Courier went to press with the Rockets traveling down Highway 5 to face Albia while the Comets traveled north to meet Knoxville. Cardinal returns home to host an SCC doubleheader next Thursday against Chariton while EBF welcomes Knoxville to Ron Welsch Field.

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.