MARION - As the prep volleyball season nears the midway point, Cedar Rapids Xavier identified a vital ingredient if the Saints are to retain their No. 1 ranking in Class 4A.
Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — You blow as good a chance as the Cedar Rapids Kernels had to walk off their opponent Thursday night, you probably deserve to lose.
The Kernels loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the ninth inning but somehow couldn’t push across the winning run. It cost them two innings later, when Lake County scored for an eventual 4-3, 11-inning victory.
Cedar Rapids (15-11) has to settle for taking the series, two games to one. Fort Wayne comes to town for a three-game series now that begins Friday night at 6:35.
“Ugly all around,” said Kernels Manager Tommy Watkins. “We had our chances.”
Travis Blankenhorn was hit by a Ryder Ryan pitch to begin the Kernels ninth. Brandon Lopez dropped down a very nice bunt between home plate and the mound, reaching when Ryan slipped trying to field it.
Ben Rortvedt also was called upon to bunt but ended up walking on five pitches. The Veterans Memorial Stadium crowd rose in anticipation of what seemed the inevitable.
But Ryan struck out Aaron Whitefield looking for the first out, Christian Cavaness struck out swinging on a 2-2 fastball, and Jermaine Palacios grounded out to third.
“The situation got a little big for us,” Watkins said. “Swinging at balls up in the zone, way up in the zone ... Instead of making them come to us, we helped them. Overswinging. Your zone should be small in that situation. He’s got to come to you.”
Emmanuel Tapia was hit by a Logan Lombana pitch leading off the Lake County 11th and went to second on a walk. Luke Wakamatsu failed to get down a sacrifice bunt, but came up the hero anyway by lining a pitch into right-center field to score pinch runner Jorma Rodriguez.
Wakamatsu doubled home the tying run with one out in the ninth inning. His father, Don, played in the 1980s for the Cedar Rapids Reds, and his mother (a Cedar Rapids native), sister and other relatives were at the park to cheer him on.
The way Tyler Wells began this game, you figured Lake County would never score. The right-hander has been C.R.’s most impressive starting pitcher thus far and struck out the first five Captains with a mix of lively fastballs and breaking stuff.
But he scuffled a second time through the Lake County order, the Captains nicking him for a pair of runs in the fourth inning for a 2-1 lead. Wells, who came in with a 2-0 record and 1.88 earned run average, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam the following inning was lifted.
Cedar Rapids was not a whole lot more successful against Lake County starting pitcher Aaron Civale, considered one of the parent Cleveland Indians’ top 20 prospects. Palacios led off against him reaching on a swinging strike three wild pitch and scored when Lewin Diaz sliced a pop-fly RBI double just fair inside the left-field line down the left-field corner.
The ball dropped only because Lake County had shifted the lefty hitter well into left-center.
Cavaness lined a double into right-center to score Whitefield with the tying run in the fifth for the Kernels. His first home run of the season leading off the bottom of the eighth gave Cedar Rapids a 3-2 lead and what appeared to be the ballgame.
Cavaness had just one RBI coming into this game, by the way.
Andrew Vasquez was terrific out of the C.R. bullpen relieving Wells, striking out four and allowing just a scratch hit between the sixth and eighth innings. He struck out the leadoff hitter in the ninth, too, but Conner Capel then singled to left-center for Lake County.
Tom Hackimer was brought on to relieve Vasquez and allowed Wakamatsu’s game-tying RBI double to left-center. The blown save was Hackimer’s third and the team’s fifth in just 26 games.
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