SALEM — Coming into the July 30 elimination game against the NW Star Academy Knights, Mid-Valley Rockets coach Troy Babbitt stressed to his team that it needed to prevent the big inning to stay in the game, as well as the American Legion baseball state tournament.
After the teams battled to a 1-1 stalemate through three innings, NW Star broke through with a big five-run inning to take what turned out to be a insurmountable lead, and eliminated the Rockets 7-5 at Chemeketa Community College.
"We had too many errors and gave them too many outs," Babbitt said.
Those errors took their toll as the Rockets often compounded base hits with throwing errors, allowing the Knights to get around the bases easily.
The game had the look of a potential shootout early as the Rockets responded to a first-inning run with a leadoff triple from Evan Cyrus. Cyrus scored on a passed ball and Lebanon's Jake Rappe’ singled. But Rappe’ would have to stay at first as the next three batters went down in order to end the inning.
Mid-Valley was able to hold the Knights at bay through three but the inning Babbitt was hoping to prevent took place in the fourth. It started with a pair of infield singles, and when the dust cleared, NW Star Academy had five runs on five hits and a commanding 6-1 lead.
“It seems like we can’t getting away from allowing that four- to six-run inning and that’s what got us in this one,” Babbitt said.
After the big inning, the Rockets would turn the game over to relief pitcher and Warrior Dylan Williams who quickly retired the first three batters he saw on four pitches. The Rockets were unable to capitalize on the momentum going down in order with a trio of ground outs.
The Knights would add one more in the sixth to push the lead to 7-1 and it appeared they would cruise to a victory.
That was the case until the ninth when the Rockets' bats woke up. Pinch hitter Cody Johnson from East Linn Christian Academy singled to give Mid-Valley its first hit since the fourth inning. Another pinch hitter, Lebanon's Drake Harrison, also singled and a pair of walks put a run on the board for Mid-Valley as the Rockets began to chip away at the lead.
Back-to-back singles from Logan Nousen and Alex Pynes brought the Rockets within 7-5. After the shortstop misplayed a ground ball, the bases were once again loaded with two down when Johnson stepped back in for his second at-bat of the inning.
Johnson was not able to repeat his performance as he popped out to second to end the rally and the game.
“We had no pressure. We put the winning run on base and were a base hit away from tying it but we just came up short,” Babbitt said, “A little too late, a lot to make up with only three outs.”
The loss ends a tough season for the Rockets but they were able to string wins together down the stretch to earn their way into the state tournament and made the most of their late opportunity.