Locked in a pair of tight ball games, thanks to some sterling performances on the mound, the Newton Rebels had a chance to sweep a home doubleheader against River City Tuesday night. While the host squad found enough offense late for a 3-0 victory in game one, the Rebels couldn't duplicate the formula in the nightcap, falling to the Lumberjacks 3-2 and ending the series in a split.
"We played good quality baseball and split the series today, but it's always tough losing the second one of a doubleheader," said Rebels coach Kasey Guinty.
Starting things off, Newton pitcher Tyler Dunn was nearly untouchable on the mound, throwing six shutout innings in the opener. While the Rebels squandered some early scoring opportunities, the offense eventually came through to back up Dunn and secure a win.
After both teams were retired in order in the first inning, Newton got a boost on defense as center fielder Jace Snodgrass had a diving catch to end the second inning. Rebel Courtland Cotton then singled with one out in the bottom half and immediately stole second. Jaylund Johnson then reached on an error, with Cotton attempting to score, but the latter was out at home and Johnson was then caught stealing to end the inning.
While Dunn gave up a leadoff single in the top of the next frame, he immediately recovered. Dunn showed off some quick reflexes, turning a double play on a comebacker before Isiah Perez settled under a pop fly to end the inning.
Newton had a pair of misses in the next two innings, coming closest after Snodgrass drew a walk with two outs in the bottom of the fourth and stole second base. Reaching third following an error on the throw, that's where Snodgrass remained as a ground ball by Kyle Adkins couldn't quite get out of the infield to bring in the first run of the game.
Dunn and the defense continued to cruise, though, as the former recorded two strikeouts in the top of the fifth and got another stellar play in the outfield, this time with right fielder Cotton making a diving stop. After third baseman Brandon Hall added a couple more defensive gems in the top of the sixth inning, the Newton offense went to work.
Hunter Martyniak led things off with a walk and Perez followed suit. Stefan Aguilar's bunt was then misplayed to load up the bases with no outs. Snodgrass and Adkins then came through with back-to-back RBI (on a single and fielder's choice). While the Lumberjacks followed that with a double play, Snodgrass came in to score on a wild pitch before the inning was over to put Newton up 3-0.
"Unfortunately, we didn't execute with the sticks like we needed to through the first five innings," Guinty said. "The last inning we put together some quality at-bats. We had two quality at-bats through the first five innings and that last inning came off and scratched five quality at-bats, and that was the difference in being able to get that first game."
Rebels pitcher Noah Parson then shut the door in the seventh inning, getting some more strong defense from Snodgrass before striking out the final two batters to secure the victory.
Game two saw the Rebels fall behind early as starter Renner Smith hit the leadoff batter, who took second base on a passed ball. After a single, a stolen base attempt allowed the lead runner to score and give River City an early 1-0 lead.
Smith settled down after that, and while he scattered a handful of hits over the next few innings, he managed to get out of trouble the rest of the way before exiting the game in the fifth inning (after a pop fly to second baseman Stefan Aguilar got him out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning).
Newton got back-to-back singles from Snodgrass and Adkins in the bottom of the first, but couldn't convert, a theme that would plague the Rebels throughout the final contest of the night.
Dunn then led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a single and stole second base, while Hall moved him to third with a single of his own with one out. Dunn then came in to score and tie up the game, 1-1, on a double steal. Johnson then reached on an error and Martyniak had a hard-hit single to load up the bases before Perez came to the plate with a chance to give Newton the lead. His fly ball to left field didn't get quite deep enough, though, as Hall was recorded out at home trying to score on the play.
Tyler Roberts entered the game and retired the side in order to start the fifth, while Adkins recorded a two-out double, but was left stranded in the bottom half of the inning.
While Roberts worked his way out of a jam in the sixth inning, Dean Smyser couldn't do the same for Newton in the seventh inning. An error and a walk put two runners on with one out and a groundout to Aguilar nearly ended the inning, but the Rebels couldn't turn two on the play..
Immediately after that near miss, River City took advantage of its second chance and got an RBI single before tacking on another run on a passed ball to go up 3-1.
Entering rally mode, the Rebels got a boost as Perez doubled down the third base line to start the bottom of the seventh, while Aguilar followed with a single and Snodgrass collected an RBI bunt single to make it a 3-2 ball game. That's the way the score would remain though, as Dunn singled to load the bases with one out, but a fly out and strikeout ended the team's comeback attempt just short.
Difficult as the loss in the second game might have been, the Rebels continue to take strides forward. While improving its execution with runners in scoring position is something for the team to take away from Tuesday's doubleheader, Guinty knows there is a learning process over the course of the season and feels his team is in good shape in regards to that.
"I feel great about this team. We're a team that pitches the ball really well. We're playing really good defense behind our pitchers, making routine plays, so yeah, we're getting there," Guinty said. "These guys are coming together. They're really getting a grasp of one another; the camaraderie in the dugout is getting there. We're a couple steps away, but we're not that far away from really turning it on."
River City: 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Newton: 000 003 0 — 3 2 1
P: Newton- Dunn, Parson and Adkins; River City- Hartley, Morgan and Dinkel.
River City: 100 000 2 — 3 12 1
Newton: 000 100 1 — 2 12 1
P: Newton- Smith, Roberts, Smyser and Johnson; River City- Looper and Dinkel.