When Hampshire tied up the regional final game against Burlington Central Saturday, the Rockets took it as a challenge. And they didn't back down, scoring 5 runs over the final two innings to beat the top-seeded Whip-Purs and win their own Class 3A regional, 6-1, on Rocket Hill.
Starter Jacob Schutta allowed 5 hits in going the distance and leadoff man Mike Lee had 3 hits and scored 3 times for the Rockets, who advance to sectionals for the second straight year. They will play St. Francis at Sycamore at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Spartans beat Kaneland 3-2 Saturday.
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The second-seeded Rockets (16-11) took an early lead when Lee, the game's first batter, doubled to left and later scored on a force play by Bryan Cynova.
That run held up until the fifth, when Hampshire's Brandon Bowen and Pete Barnas executed a double steal, with Bowen scoring the tying run.
The Rockets came right back in the sixth. Cody Schuver's double to right on an 0-2 pitch scored the eventual winning run, and Josh Lung's single brought in Schuver with an insurance tally.
"We put emphasis on answering back," said Central coach Kyle Nelson. "When a team scores on you, no matter how many runs they score, we just want to answer them back in some way."
"After each of the foul balls, I was thinking, next pitch, next pitch, watch away," said Schuver. "I've been really hitting away. They gave me another away ball and I hit it to the opposite field."
For good measure, the Rockets added 3 more in the seventh, thanks to a couple of infield hits and a couple of errors.
Schutta then shut down the Whip-Purs in the seventh. He walked no one and struck out 3 in going the distance.
"I started out throwing fastballs, just trying to get ahead in the count," Schutta said. "Then I went to the off-speed (pitches) and mostly got them swinging."
"He can throw 3, 4 pitches for strikes, put the ball exactly where it needs to be," said Nelson of Schutta. "I've got confidence to throw any pitch, any location, any count with him."
Hampshire starter Andrew Brown probably deserved better after keeping the Whip-Purs in the game for five innings and getting some shaky defensive support in the late innings.
Mike Merchut's double got the fifth inning started for Hampshire. He was thrown out trying to score on Bowen's grounder, but Bowen eventually scored the tying run.
But the Whips (16-17) couldn't capitalize on the momentum after tying the game late.
"I thought once we got that tying run we were in good position," said Hampshire coach John Sarna. "We had the right guy in the right spot, Andrew Brown. He loves to go out there and throw a goose-egg. Unfortunately, that didn't happen."