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CEDAR RAPIDS — The crowd was great, the weather impeccable. The first four innings were awesome.
Just forget about the ending.
Beloit scored six unanswered runs, including three in the ninth inning to stun the Cedar Rapids Kernels, 7-6, in the home opener Saturday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“I didn’t think we played a bad game,” said Kernels DH Travis Blankenhorn. “We made some good pitches, unfortunately they hit them. Come back out tomorrow and hopefully get a win.”
The temperature at first pitch was 76 wonderful degrees. Not so coincidentally, the attendance was a wonderful 3,508.
Both are opening-day club records at the 16-year-old ballpark. Perhaps juiced by the atmosphere, the Kernels punched their way to a 6-1 lead after four innings.
Three straight two-out hits (all bullets) plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. Blankenhorn started with a double into the right-field corner, Lewin Diaz had a RBI single to right, and Jaylin Davis followed by burning the center field with a triple over his head.
Shane Carrier began the second inning with a long home run to left-center field. Blankenhorn went oppo to left-center for a three-run homer in the fourth.
“We hit some balls hard, right at people, too,” said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. “The first three games we’ve played, we’ve hit some balls hard, just right at people. We should have pushed some more across there after we scored six.”
That didn’t happen. Cedar Rapids had just one hit after the fourth, and that was a checked-swing triple the other way down the right-field line by Caleb Hamilton in the eighth.
Beloit sidearming lefty reliever Andrew Tomasovich was especially stingy, striking out four in three terrific innings to get the victory.
“Tomasovich came in and shut the door. He was the key to the game,” Watkins said.
As was some spotty defense. Beloit got two unearned runs in the fifth against Kernels starting pitcher Sean Poppen, though the right-hander from Harvard gave his club seven very good innings.
In the top of the ninth, Edwin Diaz beat a defensive shift with a one-out single through an empty second base, then closer Tom Hackimer walked Cole Gruber. Luis Barrera followed with a do-or-die chopper toward the middle that shortstop Ariel Montesino couldn’t grab, a potential game-ending double play turning into a RBI single instead.
An ensuing sacrifice fly to left tied it, then Nate Mondou untied it with a triple into the right-field corner. That was truly the only ball hit hard against Hackimer.
The teams play again Sunday afternoon at 2:05.
“Up and down this lineup, they are going to be fun to watch,” an upbeat Watkins said. “They will be fun to watch ... I like this team, man. I like everybody.”
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