The Richland Center Rockets slipped out of Home Talent League Northern Section West Division title contention with two hard-fought losses during the past week.
The Rockets dropped a 4-3 decision to West Middleton here at North Park on Friday night and a 6-4 verdict to the Sauk Prairie Twins at Sauk Prairie on Sunday.
The Rockets had an opportunity to tighten, possibly wrest first place, in the the division. Instead, they dropped to 6-6 and fourth place.
Sauk Prairie improved to 9-1 while West Middleton remained second at 8-3, two games behind Sauk Prairie. Mazomanie, the Rockets’ next foe, leapfrogged the Rockets into third place with a 6-5 record.
Rockets’ Manager Shaun Ruhland said the team played two good games over the weekend but were disappointed with the outcomes. “We had plenty of opportunities but we had trouble cashing in,” he said. “Both games went down to the last out. We had the winning run on base against West Middleton, and we had the potential tying run on in the ninth inning against Sauk.”
The Rockets banged out 10 hits against West Middleton and 12 against Sauk Prairie, but they stranded 13 runners against West Middleton and 11 against Sauk Prairie.
The Rockets found themselves playing catch-up all weekend and never caught up.
Confronted with a potential pitching shortage (due to previous commitments), Ruhland enlisted the services of former Cazenovia pitcher (and Rockets’ nemesis) Sam Overlien.
Overlien started against West Middleton and did not disappoint.
Alhough tagged with the loss, he threw six innings allowed seven hits and two runs. He walked one and fanned five. He also drove in the Rockets’ only run until they finally plated two in the ninth.
Drew Haack’s booming triple to deep centerfield in the first inning scored Jeff Everson for a 1-0 lead. West Middleton added another run in the fourth when Josh Statz singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball before scoring on Matt Ash’s single.
The Rockets closed within 2-1 as Jon Killoy, John Walsh, Andy Chitwood and Overlien produced hits in the fourth, but the Rockets left three runners stranded. They loaded the bases again in the fifth but came up empty.
West Middleton nicked Walsh, who relieved Overlien, for a run in the seventh. Nate Drunasky doubled home Haack. They added another in the ninth when an errant throw led to a run which would prove large.
The Rockets staged a rally in the ninth. With one out, Todd Wienkes singled. He scored as Travis Jacobson doubled to right-center. With two outs, Alex Mortimer singled home Jacobson. Walsh was hit by a pitch before Chitwood’s bid for a hit was run down by second baseman Andrew Gleifer in short rightfield.
Jacobson had three hits and Killoy two.
The win enabled West Middleton to sweep the season series with the Rockets with two 1-run wins.
Sauk Prairie avenged its only HTL loss to the Rockets Sunday.
The Twins scored three runs in the second and never looked back.
Rockets’ starter Andy Chitwood took the loss while Lenerz got the win with relief help from Katzman.
Stoffels’ two-run single keyed Sauk’s three-run second.
Richland Center responded with two runs in the third. Jon Killoy who had a perfect 5x5 day at the plate with three singles, a double and a triple, double home Todd Wienkes and Travis Jacobson.
Sauk Prairie countered with two runs in the fourth before Alex Mortimer replaced Chitwood. Mortimer threw 4.2 innings and allowed one run – a home run by Koenig in the sixth. He walked one, hit one, and struck out one.
The Rockets closed within 6-3 in the seventh. Wienkes walked and scored when Mortimer beat out a fielder’s choice. The Rockets scored again in the ninth. Killoy tripled home Jacobson, who had singled.
The Rockets will face Lodi at Dane on Thursday night at 6 p.m. in HTL Night League action. The Rockets are 2-2 in the Night League.
On Sunday, the Rockets will play at Mazomanie (6-5) at 1 p.m. With a win, Richland Center (6-6) could regain third place.