ROCHELLE — A slow start turned into a strong finish for the Rochelle varsity baseball team when the Hubs hosted Forreston for two nonconference games on Saturday. Rochelle dropped the opener 9-2 before taking the finale 8-3 to split the two-game set and improve to 2-1 overall. The Hubs will host Belvidere on Wednesday.
The Cardinals took advantage of some self-inflicted wounds by the Hubs in the top of the second inning, scoring once after a failed dropped-third-strike conversion by Rochelle to take a 1-0 lead. Forreston added three runs in the top of the third inning after drawing five walks and inducing one error.
“I think the result of the opening game was a case of us not really being outside much,” head coach Jarrod Reynolds said. “There were some things we haven’t worked on much yet that got the better of us… We had a few things go wrong in the field, and much of that was due to not being outside much, but I thought we’d hit the ball better in the first game.”
The Hubs trailed 4-0 before seniors Andrew Johnson and Zack Bernardin singled to give Rochelle its first scoring threat of the day. Junior Gavin Ansteth drilled a two-out double to plate both Johnson and Bernardin to cut the Forreston lead to 4-2.
“Seeing Gavin in the cage this year… He hit the ball really well,” Reynolds said. “We’ve been really impressed with how good he’s looked. We decided to put him up in our order, and he’s had some really good swings so far. We had a feeling coming into this season that Gavin would have a monster year.”
Forreston plated the final five runs of the game to seal the opener over Rochelle. The Cardinals scored four runs in the fifth inning, taking advantage of wild pitches and passed balls to move runners around the bases while adding two doubles and one single. Forreston singled twice to record one run in the sixth inning. Junior Ethan Etes singled in the seventh inning for Rochelle.
Senior Cody Johnson took the mound for his first start of the season Saturday afternoon, throwing six innings and striking out 11 batters to record his first victory. Johnson also crushed a two-run homer to left field, which gave the Hubs a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Rochelle took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after senior Hayden Jones walked and scored on an RBI double by Ethan Etes.
“I thought Cody was impressive and I liked how he came out and threw strikes right away,” Reynolds said. “He threw the ball hard, and it was evident in his first at-bat that he meant business. He has a great arm, and when he throws strikes, he’s very hard to hit. It was nice that he kept us in the game when we weren’t scoring early.”
Leading 3-0 in the third inning, senior Noah Knight doubled, and sophomore Evan Meyers reached on a hit-by-pitch before both Hubs scored on a two-RBI double by Zack Bernardin. Senior Brandon Johnson singled to plate Bernardin soon after, and Gavin Ansteth reached on an error to keep the Rochelle offense going.
Johnson and Ansteth scored on a two-RBI double by Jones to give Rochelle an 8-0 lead. Forreston didn’t get on the scoreboard until recording three runs in the top of the seventh inning.
“I think this group is the most talented offensively that we’ve had in a while,” Reynolds said. “We have guys at pretty much every spot in the order who can hit the ball out of the park or to the fence… I don’t know if I’ve ever had a lineup from No. 1 through No. 9 where every player has the potential to leave the park.”