With bragging rights on the line and another yearly score to be etched on a plaque, Saturday’s game between Randolph and Cannon Falls lived up to its moniker. Originally scheduled to play at Jack Ruhr Field in Miesville, wet conditions forced the 2019 Battle of Byllesby to John Burch Park in Cannon Falls.
The location change did little to subdue the intensity in either dugout as the two teams played in a postseason primer.
“That's what is great about playing Cannon Falls at the end of the year, is that it's like a playoff atmosphere,” said Randolph head coach Chris Stanton. “It's under the lights, we're close and a lot of these guys know each other.”
Cannon Falls head coach Tyler Quinlan added that his team can use that playoff-like experience in section play.
“It's really important for the kids,” he said. “Just to feel what it's like to be in a game. Even though (the season) is only a couple months, it's hard to be up in the dugout all the time and locked in and cheering on your pitcher. To have that playoff feel, where every moment is just a little bit more than it is in the regular season, I think gives us a head start for what we'll face starting Monday.”
In the last 18 years of the rivalry, the series has been quite competitive with the Rockets and Bombers proving to be two of the toughest area teams to face. The Rockets, however, got the best of the Bombers this season, winning 4-1. The win evens the series 9-9 since 2000.
Rocket Andrew Wenstrom said it feels good to have bragging rights over friends from the other dugout. Having worked during the summer with a few of them, along with some of his teammates, Wenstrom said he’ll definitely be talking about the game quite a bit.
Wenstrom led the Rockets on the mound, pitching a complete game. He challenged hitters high in the strike zone with his fastball and produced many swings and misses.
“When we have a batter 0-2, we like to go high and try to gas it right by them,” Wenstrom said. “It looks like a great pitch to hit, but it's always hard to catch up to.”
Wenstrom needed 103 pitches to finish what he started. He struck out 11 batters and allowed an unearned run on three hits and a walk.
The unearned run came early in the game. Bomber Jack Dommeyer led off the second by reaching safely on an error. Dommeyer advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Roan Reardon and, after a strikeout, Graham Pearson lined a ball up the middle. Dommeyer scored from second, but might have been out had Rocket catcher AJ Weidner held onto the throw from center field.
The Rockets, trailing 1-0, finally broke through in the fourth. Joey Erickson walked to leadoff the inning. Weidner laid down a bunt up the first base line. Weidner reached safely as the throw to first pulled Riley Miller off the bag. Two wild pitches later, Erickson scored to tie the game 1-1.
Wenstrom, pitching brilliantly since the second inning, proved pivotal at the plate too. He drove in the go-ahead run on double to deep center field in the fifth. Erickson followed with a walk, then stole second to put runners on second and third with two outs.
Dommeyer uncorked a wild pitch and Kaven Blonigan, the courtesy runner for Wenstrom, scored as the throw to Dommeyer was high. Seeing Erickson trying to take third, Dommeyer threw to third while still rolling on the ground. The throw went wide and into the outfield. Erickson scored. The Rockets dugout erupted in excitement.
The unusual sequence gave the Rockets a 4-1 lead. Wenstrom allowed a leadoff hit in the sixth, but struck out the next three batters to prevent a potential Bomber rally.
“There's things you can do, bunting him over or stealing a base,” Quinlan said. “It puts pressure on the defense early. Credit to Andrew for throwing a ton of strikes. He got out of the inning and we weren't able to take advantage.”
Aside from the wild pitches that cost the Bombers the game, Quinlan added he liked what his two pitchers had. Reardon and Dommeyer each pitched three innings and combined for 11 strikeouts while allowing three hits.
“Roan threw a ton of strikes and kept them off balance,” Quinlan said. “He has good movement on his curveball and being a lefty, he gets good movement on his fastball. Jack comes in from the right side and is a bulldog. He's going to come right after (hitters). It's only going to help to have that depth with guys that I know that can throw strikes.”
Despite the loss, the Bombers have had and are looking to continue to have a good season. With the Blue Division locked up, the Bombers face Rochester Lourdes for the Hiawatha Valley League Championship on Monday.
“(The loss) doesn't change any of our season-long goals,” Quinlan said. “We already have a baseball on the wall for winning the Blue (Division). Everything we planned for is still in front of us. You wish the outcome could be different, but we played a really good game.”