MORAVIA — The Cardinal High School baseball team didn't exactly show up at full strength to Fenton Field on Wednesday.
Starting pitcher Chance Randolph needed stitches after taking a ball off the face two nights earlier at Van Buren County. The Comets were without a true backup catcher with Josh Courtney having to miss Wednesday's game due to dental surgery and Kaleb Figeroua fell ill prior to first pitch against the Mohawks.
"We've been battling through the injury bug a little bit, but it happens to everybody," Cardinal baseball coach Chris Becker said. "This was a great game because the kids faced a lot adversity and they battled through it."
Cardinal scored three runs in the first inning and never trailed, but had to battle the resilient Moravia Mohawks all the way to the end answering each time their lead was trimmed down. Landon Becker, who has shown resiliency this year coming back after tearing his ACL during basketball season, reached base five times, scoring four runs for the Comets in a 13-8 non-conference win.
"He's been struggling a little bit in his eyes still trying to get back to 100 percent," Becker said of his son and starting centerfielder. "He did a great job hitting the ball. He even wore a couple pitches to get on base."
The Comets (9-8, 3-5 SEI south) came into the game with plenty of offensive momentum, having scored eight runs in the third inning on Tuesday night in a 12-2 Southeast Iowa Superconference south division win over West Burlington. Matt Streeby drove in four runs, going 2-3 at the plate with a double against the Falcons, while Tristin Cloke added a pair of doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored.
Streeby and Cloke played their parts in helping Cardinal protect leads throughout the night on Wednesday at Moravia. Streeby went 3-5 against the Comets, driving in two runs and scoring three times while Cloke reached base four times, driving in two runs.
"We talk all the time about finding a way to get on," Chris Becker said. "Anytime you have baserunners, you give yourself opportunities."
Moravia (8-11, 7-8 Bluegrass) was not quite as Cardinal fortunate in terms of beating out the weather on Tuesday, having a Bluegrass Conference contest at Twin Cedars postponed. The Mohawks faced a unique test Thursday, heading to Twin Cedars to make up the conference clash in Bussey at noon before heading to Garden Grove later on Thursday night for another Bluegrass road test at Mormon Trail.
"I've never been in a situation where we go play a team in one town and then, jump on the bus and play another team in another town," Moravia head baseball coach Bill Huisman said. "It's going to be quite an experience."
Moravia battled deep into the night to try and fight back in the first of four games scheduled for the Mohawks over the next three days. Colton Swenson came the closest to completely erasing Cardinal's lead, driving a pitch off the fence in left field for a two-run hit just missing a tying three-run homer by a few feet.
Cardinal, however, made the plays defensively to keep the Mohawks from bringing the tying run across the plate. Swenson was thrown out trying to stretch the two-run single into a two-run double before Jackson McDanel flew out to Becker for the final out of the second inning with Kaleb Templeton standing at second base representing the tying run.
Moravia would not put the tying run in scoring position again during the game, but were within a swing of taking the lead in the fifth as relief pitcher Corbin Humble struggled with his command in the fifth, allowing Moravia to load the bases after cutting a six-run Cardinal down to 10-7 with nobody out.
Dawson Lewis, back on the mound for the first time since pitching six innings last Friday in a solid start against ninth-ranked (2A) Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, recorded a pair of strikeouts before finally getting Ethan Martin to ground out to second. Moravia brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth, but ran themselves out of the inning when Cayden Cook was thrown out at second on an error that allowed Matthew Seals to score, pulling Moravia within 10-8.
"Just as we got the momentum in our favor, it seemed like we'd do something silly that killed the rally," Huisman said. "It's so hard to overcome that time and time again. You only get so many shots at it.
"We're still seeing a lot of the same problems that we've seen since the start of the year. We just make so many little mistakes that stop our momentum. We've got to learn from those mistakes or we're not going to get where we want to go."
Stopping Cardinal ultimately proved to be the biggest difficulty for the Mohawks. Becker and Bryant both doubled in the third, helping Cardinal open a 5-2 lead over the Mohawks. Morgan Rupe was hit by a pitch in the fourth, allowing the top of the order to create more chaos with two outs as the top five batters in the Comet lineup reached base, bringing in three more runs to put Cardinal ahead 8-3.
"Our bats have really come alive over the past couple of games. That's become one of our strengths," Landon Becker said. "We knew we were going to have to keep answering back. In that last inning, I don't know how many runs we put up, but it gave us a comfortable lead. That really set us apart going into the final inning."
Ironically, the seventh-inning rally was the only one in which the Mohawks finally kept Becker from scoring in. Streeby reached on the fielder's choice that retired Becker, scoring one of the three runs that would pad Cardinal's lead in the final frame before finally ending the long night by doubling off Templeton at first off a liner to the Comet shortstop.
"Moravia is a scrappy bunch with good, young talent," Chris Becker said. "We don't take anyone lightly. We knew Moravia would give us their best shot."