By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — SIGOURNEY – Sigourney freshman Peyton Crawford was right on his limit, according to head coach Lee Crawford.
But it seemed on Thursday night as his pitch count mounted, his pitches got harder to hit by Pekin batters. Even as he went well over the 100-pitch mark, Crawford seemed to get better recording five of his eight strikeouts in the final two innings of the “Skunk River” rivalry.
Unfortunately for Crawford and the Savages, the 129th pitch Crawford threw was one too many. But it proved to be the one perfect pitch Pekin’s Nazareth Rambo was looking for. The senior slugged a two-out drive well over the fence in left field for a tiebreaking three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Panthers won a classic battle of Keokuk County rivals 5-4.
“I’m glad I’ve got a great support staff around me,” Rambo said. “We’re playing much better as a team. You have to at some point if you want to start picking up some wins.”
The home run ball would be the last one Crawford would throw, ending a tough-luck night in which the Savage freshman was called on to eat up innings with Sigourney lacking depth in the pitching at the tail end of a busy week. Crawford saw his pitch count climb throughout the night thanks to early struggle with his command, leading to the Panthers drawing eight walks.
However, Crawford worked around the walks and allowed just two earned runs in the contest. None of the three seventh-inning runs proved to be earned as an error by third baseman Colton Schwenke opened the frame and forced the Savages head coach to start making plans for the rest of the inning.
“He was right on the border with me of coming out when we got around to the top of their order again (in the seventh),” Crawford said. “He was within one batter of coming out anyway. If he had gotten (Petie) Clubb, he probably never would have faced Rambo, because I don’t think I would have let him pitch into the eighth.”
The walk to Clubb was followed by a strikeout of Jayden Nicholson, which should have been the final out of the inning. Instead, Rambo got a chance to strike with the extra out given at the start of the seventh to the Panthers.
Rambo, who hadn’t touched the ball all night with two walks and a strikeout in three previous plate appearances, didn’t hesitate. On the first pitch he saw in his fourth trip to home plate, Rambo turned on a fastball and hammered a no-doubt drive onto the Sigourney football practice field.
“I just kind of decided the first three at-bats hadn’t gone very well for me. I might as well take a stab at the first pitch and see what happens,” Rambo said. “It felt good off the bat.”
The home run trend continued on Thursday for the Panthers, who haven’t lost for two weeks since a 5-0 shutout loss to Cardinal at home that dropped Pekin to 3-6. The Panthers fifth straight win on Thursday night featured four runs brought home by the long ball, including a game-tying lead-off home run by catcher Cole Reighard that also went to left but needed some help hoping off the top of the fence before landing over.
“We’re seeing the ball really well lately,” Pekin first-year baseball coach Curtis Reighard said. “I think that’s what led to us hitting a lot more home runs lately.”
Rambo, meanwhile, got the call to finish what he started in the seventh as he took the mound in relief of the Panthers’ own freshman starting pitcher. Keaton Winn went six innings for Pekin, striking out nine batters while allowing just one earned run.
“That was really an impressive pitching effort by two freshmen,” Reighard said.
Rambo was greeted in the seventh by back-to-back singles by Cole Striegle and Jackson Davis, bringing the Savages best hitters to the plate as potential tying runs. What developed next was an interesting rematch between Rambo and Crawford with the two players reversing roles as Crawford had a chance to hit his third home run of the year off Rambo for a three-run shot that would have answered Rambo’s homer in the top of the frame.
“We got the hitters in the lineup that I thought would give us the chance to score some runs and get it back for us after we got those two singles to lead things off,” Crawford said. “With Crawford coming up, you definitely think you’ve got a chance to tie it up or maybe even win it at that point.”
Instead, Rambo won the second battle of the two in the seventh by forcing the Sigourney freshman to foul out to first base. Colby Kerkove kept the Savages alive; however, driving in two runs with a single before Rambo hit Shane Sweringen two pitches later to put the tying run in scoring position and game-winning run on base.
Facing Schwenke, who gave Sigourney their only lead of the night with a second-inning two-out RBI single, Rambo responded with nothing but strikes. An 0-2 high fastball had the Savage infielder swinging to end a thrilling contest.
“I was definitely pumped up after hitting that home run in the top of the inning. It was hard to stay calm out there,” Rambo said. “I just had to try and keep myself calm and just throw the baseball when it came to getting that last out.”
Pekin carried plenty of momentum into a huge Southeast Iowa Superconference north division matchup against IMS at home Friday night as the Courier went to press. The Panthers (8-6) will look to continue building on the momentum this weekend hosting the Pekin Baseball Tournament with games against New London and Moravia at 10 a.m. and Noon before the Mohawks and Tigers play at 2.
“I think the longer the season goes, the better we should get,” Reighard said. “The kids are getting more used to me and getting used to each other. We’re really starting to gel.”
Sigourney, meanwhile, wrapped up a busy week with a South Iowa Cedar League contest against Iowa Valley Friday as the Courier went to press. The Savages (5-8) face hit the road for three straight games including an SICL matchup at Belle Plaine Monday looking to grow from Thursday’s rivalry matchup.
“Pekin and Sigourney is a great matchup of two schools within a close proximity of each other,” Crawford said. “It’s a close rivalry. Hopefully it comes out on our end next time.”
Pekin 5, Sigourney 4
Pekin 000 200 3 — 5 4 2
Sigo. 010 010 2 — 4 6 1
Pekin battery — Keaton Winn (W, 2-1) (6IP, 3H, 2R, ER, 9K, 4BB) and Nazareth Rambo (IP, 3H, 2R, 2ER, 2K, HBP), Cole Reighard catching.
2B — Kolby Allsup.
HR — Reighard.
Hits — Allsup 1-2, Rambo 1-2, Reighard 1-3, Graham Wittrock 1-4.
RBI — Rambo 3, Reighard.
Runs — Jon Irwin, Rambo, Reighard, Wittrock.
Sigourney battery — Peyton Crawford (L, 0-1) (6 2/3IP, 4H, 5R, 2ER, 8K, 8BB) and Cole Streigle (1/3IP), Kyle Ferree catching.
Hits — Jackson Davis 2-4, Streigle 2-4, Colby Kerkove 1-4, Colton Schwenke 1-4.
RBI — Kerkove 2, Schwenke.
Runs — Davis 2, Streigle, Shane Swearingen.