FULTON — Brent Dykstra could sense the excitement fading along the third-base line while the home team and their supporters watched a seven-run lead dissipate.
The Steamers, who entered without a win, nearly squandered an early 8-1 advantage before dramatically salvaging a 11-8 victory over local foe Morrison Tuesday night at Drive’s Park.
“You could feel the fans get quiet and they [Morrison] were turning the tide,” Dykstra said. “I am a combination of happy and relieved, especially for the boys.
”They need to know what this feels like because they are winners.”
Fulton’s Larson Barnett led the team at the plate with a 3-for-4 performance, all of which were extra-base hits, including two doubles and a triple.
The senior was pleased to end the ‘W’ drought, especially considering the group has been on the cusp of triump a handful of times this season.
“It feels good,” Barnett said. “We came out and played well tonight and it just felt good to get the win.”
The matchup drew a populous crowd that overflowed the parking lot at Drive’s Park, as the two schools, separated by just 11 miles, have garnered a storied rivalry throughout the years – a matchup most illustrated by the annual Wooden Shoe game during football season.
Even so, the baseball diamond had a heightened atmosphere Tuesday night.
“There was a little chirping out there but you just have to go out there and play every game like it’s just a normal game,” Barnett said. “We executed it and came out with the win.”
Morrison struck in its first at-bat of the game with consecutive hits to take an early 1-0 advantage on Nate Helms’ RBI single.
Dykstra, in his first year at the helm of the Steamers, has preached the importance of quickly responding to early deficits this season – and his team wasted little time Tuesday night.
The Steamers ambushed Morrison for three runs in both the first and second innings. Barnett roped a two-run double in the first and Jake Pannell scored him with a single two at-bats later.
Connor Barnett hit a run-scoring single in the third and the elder Barnett smashed an RBI triple to help fuel the Steamers’ rally that eventually built an 8-1 lead after three innings.
But Morrison wasn’t ready to roll over.
The Mustangs found their bats in a pivotal sixth inning, reeling off five runs to pull within a single tally. Fulton aided the rally with three straight errors and Helms ripped a two-RBI double and later scored on a wild pitch to make the score 8-7.
Morrison coach Michael Budka was encouraged by his team’s perseverance in the late moments while pointing at a disappointing three-inning stretch to open the contest.
“I’m really pleased with the way we were able to fight back there,” he said, “it comes back to limiting the damage as much as possible in the early parts of the game before you are really behind.
“When you are trailing 8-1, it is really hard to come back, but I give our guys props for getting going and finding some holes out there.”
Connor Barnett threw five innings for Fulton and allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and five strikeouts. Kannon Wynkoop was tagged for five runs (all unearned) in the sixth before Patrick Wiebenga took the save with a scoreless seventh inning.
Wiebenga joined Larson Barnett with three hits, while Jake Pannell and Connor Barnett both had a pair.
Morrison was led at the plate by Helm’s 4-for-4 outing and Riley Wilkens’ two hits.
Fulton (1-10) and Morrison (1-10) are slated for a rematch at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Morrison.