As tightly contested as their pair of games were earlier in the week, the Newton Rebels home opener Friday night against the Wichita Sluggers seemed a bit of an anomaly.
Following a doubleheader that was decided by three runs combined, the Sluggers doubled that margin of victory in Friday's contest with a 13-7 win, as Newton dug itself a hole early and could not climb out.
"We came out pretty flat; kind of lacked some focus there," said Rebels coach Kasey Guintey. "We kicked the ball around there quite a bit that first inning and we gave them all the momentum in the world."
The Sluggers opened the game with back-to-back singles from Harrison Denk and Adam Theis, with the latter's being misplayed and allowing Denk to score. An error on a potentially inning-ending double play attempt then scored another run, while Nate Postlethwait and Jack Maki collected back-to-back RBIs after that to give Wichita a 4-0 lead.
Newton got a run back in the bottom half of the first as Bowe Beyhemer reached on a dropped third strike to start things off. He then stole second, advanced to third on a groundout by Stefan Aguilar and scored on a wild pitch.
Before Rebels starting pitcher Rob Lain retired the side in the third and fourth innings, Wichita added another run on an RBI single from Theis, though the Rebels answered back with Isiah Perez leading things off with a single and Tyler Dunn driving him in with two outs in the fourth to make it 5-2.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, the team just couldn't quite stop the bleeding, as the Sluggers came right back to add four more runs in the top of the fifth inning — collecting only one hit in the frame. Three Rebels pitchers combined to hit three batters and issue four walks in the inning, aiding the Sluggers' cause, while Postlethwait added a sacrifice fly.
Getting a leadoff single from Renner Smith in the following half inning, Newton again cut into the deficit as Beyhemer then reached on an error then got caught in an intentional rundown to allow smith to score.
Seemingly breaking the game open in the top of the sixth with four more runs on three RBI singles —all with two outs — from Maki, Brayden Whitechurch and Mason Hartman, the Sluggers push to take a 10-run lead (13-3) actually seemed to have a rallying effect for the Rebels — as the home team answered with four runs of its own.
"I think guys finally just started relaxing a bit. We talked to them about waiting for their pitch and seeing the ball a little longer," Guintey said. "We're a free-swinging bunch and we get behind in counts because we're impatient at the plate, and that kind of started turning around. We started taking a few more pitches."
Kyle Adkins slapped a single to lead things off before Jace Snodgross advanced him on a bunt, and Adkins then scored on an error that allowed Dunn to reach safely. Brandon Hall followed with a double and Dean Smyser then knocked in two more runs with an RBI single before Hunter Martyniak hit into a fielder's choice that brought in another run, getting the Rebels within six.
After a pair of relatively quick innings, Wichita added a couple insurance runs in the final frame. While the Rebels looked to get a final rally going with back-to-back singles from Perez and Adkins, that effort abruptly came to an end as a hard hit ball by Snodgrass to right field turned into a game-ending triple play.
Though it was a tough end to a difficult game, that final out did illustrate some positive signs Guinty is seeing from his team that, knowing it's a long season, gives him hope for what is to come both further down the road and in the immediate future — starting with a contest against the Cheney Diamond Dawgs at 7 p.m. today.
"We're starting to square up to more baseballs, driving the baseball. Some of our outs were loud outs. Our bats are coming around; looking forward to what we can do (Saturday)," Guinty said. "It's just one game out of 44. I'm expecting we're taking our lumps early. We're still seeing who can do what on the baseball field. We're getting a good feel for that. I'm excited about what the weekend holds for us. I think we can string together some pretty good games here."
Wichita: 410 044 002 — 15 13 3
Newton: 100 114 000 — 7 9 3
P: Newton- Lain, Cotton, Adkins, Smith, Smyser, Dunn and Tice, Adkins; Wichita- Boline, Baxley and Morrow.