By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
---- — CLINTON — Through six innings, it looked as though Sterling Newman was going to walk away handily with its second win of the night Thursday, leading Fulton 8-1 at Ashford University Field. This after the Steamers no-hit the Comets last week in a 10-0 route.
Then Fulton caught fire.
A late-inning rally started with a leadoff single in the seventh by Colin Tichler. Ethan Jones drove him in on a fielder’s choice. Austin Manon reached on an error, and Cody Huff blooped a left-field RBI-single.
The Steamers were back in business, cutting the deficit to four. Then, freshman Devon Ballard stepped to the plate, with two outs and the bases loaded.
“I was a little nervous,” Ballard said. “But I believed in myself. I knew we could do it.”
Ballard worked a full count, then knocked a line drive to right field. The hit drove in two runs, forcing Newman to change pitchers, its once seven-run lead down to two. Tichler tallied his second hit of the inning, singling to right and moving Ballard to third base. The freshman was 90 feet away from completing a miraculous comeback.
It wasn’t meant to be. Matt Dail’s second at-bat sent a hard grounder to Newman’s first baseman, Trevor Bolin. It pulled the fielder far enough away where it looked as if Dail might outrun a force out.
But as quickly as the Steamers got hot, the game ended in a cold, hard bang-bang play, with Bolin tagging the base for the game’s final out, the Comets on top 8-7. It was deflating for Fulton coach Jayme Farrell, his team entering the seventh with two hits and ending the game with eight.
“We didn’t come off the bus ready today,” Farrell said. “I thought we were too relaxed. Even in pregame I was worried about that. We’re a young team and still have a lot to learn that way.”
To him, the game really came down to the first inning, not the last. The Comets scored four runs to start the game.
“You can’t ever spot a conference team four runs in the first inning,” Farrell said, something he told his players afterward. “We finally attacked a little more in that last inning. We never gave up, and that’s a positive to take out of the game.”
But, he added, Fulton dug itself a hole early, and it hurt in the end.
One bright spot was Ballard. Not only did the freshman finish with two RBIs on two hits, he also struck out four from the mound after relieving starting pitcher Huff.
“I felt it was kind of a breakout game for him,” Farrell said. “I think he’s starting to get in a groove here. He’s a little more relaxed about everything he does, and he should be, he’s a dang good ballplayer.”
The Steamers will host the Muddy River Classic on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. vs. Orion, then against Paw Paw (2:30 p.m.) and East Dubuque (4:10 p.m.). The loss dropped them to 8-8, 5-2 in the Three Rivers Conference.
NEWMAN 8, FULTON 7
Fulton 000 100 6 — 7 8 2
Newman 401 201 x — 8 6 3
W — Alex Buhler; Shayne Allen; Matt Wagenecht (7) and Kyle Moore. Cody Huff, Devon Ballard (3) and Paul Velasco. Multiple hits — Fulton (Tichler 2, Ballard 2); RBI — Fulton (Tichler, Jones, Manon, Huff, Ballard 2); SB — Fulton (Dail, Jones, Huff, Reed)