TUCSON, Ariz. - It was a difficult opening day for the Regents (0-2) as Rockford fell 9-3 to Wheaton College (2-2) and then lost 12-7 to Howard Payne University (8-2). The Wheaton pitching staff was the story in the first game, as the two Thunder pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts including 14 from starter Michael McCraith. Fortunately Rockford's bats woke up in game two as the Regents pounded out 12 hits and 7 runs against the Yellow Jackets. However this time it was the defense that let the Regents down, as Rockford committed five errors which led to 8 unearned runs.
Despite what the final score might indicate, Rockford's opening game against Wheaton was close for most of the day. The Regents and Thunder were scoreless after two before Wheaton took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third. However, the Regents responded right back with a run of their own in the top of the fourth to pull within one, at 2-1. Junior Brett Down (Princeville, Ill.) got the rally started with a leadoff double down the left field line to give Rockford only its second base runner of the game. Following back-to-back strikeouts, senior outfielder Chris Carlson (Schaumburg, Ill.) came through with a clutch RBI single through the right side of the infield to make it a 2-1 game. However the Thunder answered right back with 3 runs in the bottom half of the inning to jump in front 5-1. Despite the large deficit, Rockford was able make things interesting with two runs in the top of the sixth as the Regents pulled back within two at 5-3. Brett Down and Bryce Hinkelman (Ottawa, Ill.) got things started with back-to-back one out singles. One batter later, the Regents would take advantage of a Wheaton error to score their first run of the inning. Senior Chris Carlson then drove in his second run of the game with another clutch two-out RBI single to cut the Wheaton lead down to 5-3. Unfortunately just like earlier in the game, the Thunder answered with 5 runs in the bottom half of the inning to blow the game wide open and take a commanding 9-3 advantage. That is all the Thunder pitching staff would need, as they held the RU offense in check for the remainder of the game to seal the win.
Offensively the Regents were led by the duo of Chris Carlson and Brett Down, who combined for five of Rockford's seven hits. Carlson went 3-for-4 with 2 runs batted in. Down was 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
On the mound, Rockford got an excellent performance out of the bullpen from sophomore Zach Randecker (Lanark, Ill.). Randecker tossed 2.2 shutout innings and did not allow a hit, while striking out two.
Following the tough loss in its season opener, Rockford was hoping to rebound and pick up a victory over the Yellow Jackets in the nightcap. Unlike the first game of the day, Rockford led for multiple innings but was unable to hold onto that lead. After surrendering an unearned run in the bottom of the first, Rockford took its first lead of the season with three runs in the top of the third. Nathan Burris (Oglesby, Ill.), Chris Carlson and Brett Down strung together back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases with just one out. Rockford would then tie the game on a wild pitch before taking a 2-1 lead off a Bryce Hinkelman single to center field. One batter later, Austin Smith (Peru Ill.) drove in Rockford's third run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to center to put the Regents in front 3-1 after 3 innings of play. Rockford would add two more runs in the top of the fifth to further extend its advantage. Brett Down began the inning with a double to center field, followed by a single from Bryce Hinkelman to put runners on second and third with no one out. One batter later, Austin Smith tallied his second sacrifice fly of the game as the Regents took a 4-1 lead. Kyle Waugh (Waseca, Minn.) then put the Regents up 5-1 heading into the bottom of the fifth as he crushed an RBI triple into deep center field. It seemed as though that would be all RU pitcher Joseph Valdez (Tucson, Ariz.) would need as he was cruising though four innings, allowing no hits and just the one unearned run in the top of the first. However, the Yellow Jackets began to come to life in the in the fifth scoring five runs aided by two Rockford errors to retake the lead at 6-5. Howard Payne would tack on three more unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to another Rockford error, to further extend its lead to 9-5. However, the Regents would not go away quietly as they continued to fight and claw their way back into the game with two runs of their own in the top of the seventh. It was once again Brett Down who started the rally, this time with a leadoff double. One batter later, Bryce Hinkelman drove in Down with an RBI single to center, his fourth hit of the game. Following a Yellow Jacket error, Kyle Waugh crushed an RBI double to deep left center field, scoring Hinkelman and giving Rockford runners on second and third with no one out. After a hit batsman loaded the bases, the Yellow Jackets were able to wiggle their way out of the inning without any further damage by striking out the next batter and then inducing an inning ending double play. Howard Payne would then score a trio of runs over the next two inning en route to a 12-7 victory.
Offensively Rockford was much better in the second game. Bryce Hinkelman led the RU offense going a perfect 5-for-5 with 2 doubles, 2 runs batted in and 2 runs scored. Brett Down continued his excellent day at the plate with a 3-for-5 performance including 2 doubles and 3 runs scored. Kyle Waugh finished 2-for-5 at the plate with a double, a triple and 2 runs batted in.
The combination of Joseph Valdez and Thomas Bolen (Tucson, Ariz.) combined to throw all eight innings for the Regents. Valdez tossed the first five allowing just two earned runs off five hits, while striking out three. Bolen fired the final three innings also allowing just two earned runs off four hits while striking out three.
The RU baseball team returns to the diamond on Sunday, March 4 in Tucson, Ariz. against Concordia Nebraska. First pitch is set for 1:30 PM.