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 – Hits have been hard to come by lately for Ryan Walker. Playing time has, too.
Which had to make being mobbed around first base after his walk-off single Wednesday night that much better.
“It just feels good when you get the chance (like that),” Walker said, after his RBI single with one out in the 11th inning gave the Cedar Rapids Kernels a 3-2 win over Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “Especially to help your pitcher that battled the entire game, that part feels good. It’s great for the team.”
Walker came in 1 for his last 14 at the plate. The return to health of shortstop Engelb Vielma and second baseman Logan Wade has squeezed him out of the lineup most days.
But he was in there Wednesday and drove in all three runs for the Kernels (53-55, 22-16). His clutch two-out, two-run single to center tied things in the seventh, then he blooped a ball into short right in the 11th to score Max Murphy with the winning run.
He collected his first Kernels hit to lead off the inning, a single to left-center.
“Ryan’s one guy I’m pretty proud of because he has kind of sat for awhile,” Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said. “He sat for three, four, five days in a row. He’s getting a chance to play here, and he’s making the most of it. He doesn’t say boo, doesn’t complain. You can put him at second, put him at short, probably third or center field. He just goes out there and gives it a good effort.”
Cedar Rapids pulled into a tie with Kane County for first place in the Midwest League’s Western Division with its 15th win in its last 19 games. The offense has been better, the pitching way better than it was a month ago.
The Kernels have shaved the team earned run average from 4.89 on June 20 to 4.06. Starting pitcher Ryan Eades went seven innings Wednesday, allowing two long solo home runs to right to Burlington’s Eric Aguilera.
The big first baseman has owned Eades this season, going 4-for-4 with three dingers, a double and three walks. Aguilera added a fourth hit in the ninth against reliever Nick Burdi.
He and Dallas Gallant combined for four shutout bullpen innings and 10 strikeouts. Top to bottom, this group of Kernels relievers might just be the best in the league.
“The bullpen has been outstanding,” Mauer said. “You run Burdi out there for six outs. I don’t think Gallant has given up a run, yet (in 12 appearances). The boys have all been doing their part. That’s the biggest thing.
“And they are all feeding off each other, competing with each other, which is fun to see.”
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