TUCSON, Ariz. - The Regents baseball team (0-6) returned to the diamond on Thursday following a couple of off days for two games against the Bethany Lutheran College Vikings (4-2). Although Rockford was able to play well in spurts in both games, the Regents were unable to come up with a win in either, falling 6-3 in game one and 6-2 in game two.
Game one was a pitcher's duel for nearly the entire game as Rockford starter Spencer Lentz (Stillman Valley, Ill.) gave the Regents five solid innings on the mound. Lentz had the Viking hitters off balance for most of his outing as he scattered five hits and allowed just two earned runs while striking out two. The senior left-hander seemed to be on cruise control through four innings as he held the Vikings without a run. Senior shortstop Austin Smith (Peru, Ill.) played a part in keeping the Vikings scoreless through four as he made multiple outstanding plays at short in the fourth. With runners on corners and no one out, Smith made a great backhanded pick on a hard hit ball that resulted in two outs thanks to an interference call at second base. Then on the very next play, Smith made an outstanding backhanded play deep in the hole and threw the hitter out at first to preserve Rockford's 1-0 lead.
Smith was also heavily involved in the Regents' first run of the game in the third inning. After a two-out error by the Vikings kept the inning alive, Rockford stole second and drew a walk to put runners on first and second with two outs. Up stepped Smith, who singled into left to put his team in front 1-0.
The Regents would tack on two more runs in the top of the fifth to take a 3-0 lead, their largest of the day. Bryce Hinkelman (Ottawa, Ill.) got the scoring started when he absolutely crushed a solo shot over the left field wall to put his team out in front 2-0. Austin Smith and Chris Carlson (Schaumburg, Ill.) followed with back-to-back singles to give Rockford runners on the corners with just one out. One batter later, senior Michael Tosado (Chicago, Ill.) knocked in the second run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to center as Rockford now led 3-0.
Unfortunately things began to go downhill for Rockford over the final few innings. The Vikings took advantage of a Rockford error in the bottom of the fifth to score a trio of runs and knot the game heading into the sixth. Bethany Lutheran's momentum from the previous inning seemed to carry over into the sixth as the Vikings scored three more runs to take their first lead of the day at 6-3. Rockford was able to load the bases in the top of the seventh but came away empty-handed, falling 6-3.
Rockford pounded out 11 hits in game one, with two players recording multiple hits. Senior Austin Smith led the way going 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI and a run scored. Corey Saracco (Montgomery, Ill.) had a nice day going 2-for-2 with a walk. Bryce Hinkelman and Michael Tosado each tallied one hit and drove in a run.
Game two of the doubleheader was also a pitcher's duel for the first five innings as the two teams combined to score just one run. The Viking run in the second should not have even scored as they hit a routine ground ball right at the second baseman which would have ended the inning, but the field umpire failed to get out of the way and was hit by the ball, essentially giving the Vikings an extra out. Bethany Lutheran would take advantage of the gift and drive in a run on the next play to go up 1-0. Other than that one run, RU pitcher Joseph Valdez (Tucson, Ariz.) was nearly unhittable for the first five innings. Valdez retired nine of his last eleven hitters heading into the sixth before giving up two runs in his final inning of work. For the day, the junior right-hander fired six innings, allowing five hits and three runs, while striking out three and walking none.
The game would remain 1-0 until the sixth when each team scored a pair of runs. The Vikings struck first in the top half of the frame with two runs off three hits to extend their lead to 3-0. Rockford would answer right back in the bottom half of the inning with two runs of their own. Pinch hitter Michael Tosado got the rally started with Rockford's first hit of the day on a ball up the middle off the diving second baseman. Rockford would then load the bases with just one out as both Kraemer Brandt (Elk Grove, Ill.) and Bryce Hinkelman drew walks. One batter later, Austin Smith came through again with a clutch two-run single into right field, making it a one-run game. However, the Vikings were able to retire the next two batters and take a 3-2 lead into the seventh.
The Vikings would add to their lead in the seventh with a three-run home run to take a 6-3 advantage into the bottom half of the frame. Unfortunately Rockford went down in order as Bethany Lutheran held on for the win.
The RU baseball team returns to action on Friday, March 9 in Tucson, Ariz. against Salem State. First pitch is set for 3:30 PM.