Trailing 6-5 with one out in the top of the seventh against Oregon on May 4, Rock Falls’ Morgan Mandrell squared around to attempt a suicide squeeze bunt to try to bring Faith Sandrock home from third.
The result of the play was, to say the least, controversial.
Mandrell got the bunt down, and Sandrock raced home.
Oregon pitcher Emily Perkins charged in and flipped the ball to catcher Hannah Wolber, who applied the tag to Sandrock. It looked as though the Rock Falls junior had gotten underneath the tag, but she was called out.
Mandrell got to second via a wild pitch, and moved up to third on a single to left by Natalie Soltow, but Perkins induced a groundout to second by Gracie Janssen to preserve the Hawks’ 6-5 win over the Rockets.
Rock Falls coach Kris Nunez wasn’t shy about her criticism of the umpires when asked if the Rockets were on the wrong end of a few questionable calls throughout the game.
“Yes, especially on the last play,” Nunez said. “[Sandrock] was so far under that tag. [Wolber] tagged her up by the shoulder, and her arm was already across the plate. We got ripped off on that call. That was a terrible call in that situation.
“But Oregon played a really good game. They wanted it.”
That isn’t to say Rock Falls (20-9, 16-2 Big Northern) didn’t have other opportunities.
The Rockets had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the sixth, but Perkins got Bailee Reynolds to line out to short and Addison Seidel to pop out to first to escape the jam. Rock Falls ended up leaving 12 runners on base.
Perkins got the win despite allowing six hits, six walks to just three strikeouts, five wild pitches, and a total of 144 pitches. Four of her walks came in the final two innings, as it became evident she started to wear down.
“I’ll be honest: Yes,” Perkins said when asked if she started to tire at the end. “It wasn’t that I was physically tired, I was mentally tired. But Coach [Jamie Revelle] has been working with me to get better at that.”
“We had [Ellie] Egyed warmed up to go in,” Revelle said. “Emily has been pushing and working on her mental approach, so I chose to leave her in because it was a great learning time for her whether we won or lost.”
Oregon (15-9, 11-6) took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a bit of help from the Rockets.
After Soltow walked McKenna Sadler, Egyed blooped a single to right. Sadler beat the right fielder Mandrell’s throw to third.
Rock Falls third baseman Miranda Long corralled the throw, and fired to second in an attempt to nail Egyed moving up on the throw.
Long’s throw to second baseman Kylee Ricketts went haywire, allowing Sadler to come home and give the Hawks the lead.
“We made some mistakes that we don’t usually make,” Nunez said. “You come back and you live and you learn.”
Rock Falls had two errors behind Soltow, who went the distance and struck out eight while allowing four walks, six hits and five earned runs. Oregon survived despite four errors.
“We had some costly errors, and they did too,” Revelle said. “It was kind of one of those games. We got some breaks, too.”
After the Rockets jumped ahead 2-0 in the top of the second on a throwing error by Oregon and a successful squeeze by Mandrell brought home Seidel, the Hawks got five runs in the bottom half.
Perkins and Aleah Wight had RBI singles that each plated two runs, and Sarah Palmer’s hustle on Hailey White’s infield single gave Oregon an early lead.
“What’s nice is to see the girls approaching their at-bats very professionally, making adjustments,” Revelle said. “It’s very nice to see them improving in the mental aspect.”
Perkins led the Hawks with two singles and a double.
Rock Falls cut the deficit to 5-3 in the top of the third thanks to an Oregon error, and tied the game in the fifth.
Long and Payton Johnson came around to score when Perkins’ throw to first on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Johnson hit her, deflecting into right field and allowing both Rockets to race around the bases.