REINBECK - Josh Cooley provided the fireworks one night early.
The Gladbrook-Reinbeck sophomore belted his first career home run - a two-run shot - as a part of the Rebels' eight-run second inning en route to a 14-2, five-inning victory over South Hardin in Thursday's NICL West Division baseball game.
The Rebels (16-7, 12-4), who will need to win their remaining five conference games next week to surpass league-leading East Marshall for the title, rapped out 14 hits and made the most of South Hardin's three errors and a pair of misplayed fly balls.
G-R sophomore right-hander Cameron Murphy overcame early control issues to strike out a season-high eight batters while allowing just one South Hardin hit, yet the Rebels still had to rally back from a 2-1 deficit after the opening frame.
After a four-pitch walk to leadoff batter Cody Healy, South Hardin's Sam Shindelar roped a run-scoring double to the gap in left. A throwing error on the relay throw moved Shindelar to third, and Ryan Mossman's sacrifice bunt drove him home without a play.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck cut the early deficit in half with a run courtesy of a double-steal in the home half of the first, and the Rebel bats came to life in the second.
South Hardin 2, 5 innings
Ty Cook, Sam Shindelar (4) and Cody Haley; Cameron Murphy and Bryce Ehlers. W-Murphy (4-2). L-Cook (1-6). 2B-SH: Shindelar; G-R: Logan Flamme. HR-G-R: Josh Cooley (1). LOB-SH 1, G-R 2.
After a one-out walk to Joe Smoldt, Cooley roped a line drive over the left-field fence. With the setting sun making it difficult to see where the ball landed, Cooley cruised into second with what he thought to be a ground-rule double.
"I thought it went under the fence, I really couldn't see from the sun," he said. "That was definitely shocking, I've never hit a home run in my life."
Cooley's round-tripper was the first of six Gladbrook-Reinbeck hits in the inning, including a two-run single for Bryce Ehlers and Logan Flamme's two-run double down the left-field line.
An error and two walks along the way made life on the mound harder for South Hardin's Ty Cook, leading to three unearned runs of the eight.
"We've got a young team and we'd been making some pretty good strides the last couple weeks and avoiding that big inning," said Tigers coach Dick Shindelar, "but that big inning really hurt us tonight. We gave them six outs and should have been out of that inning with just a couple runs.
"You've got to give (G-R) credit, they put the ball in play and we didn't make plays defensively that inning and basically took ourselves out of the game."
South Hardin (2-15, 2-15) put a pair of baserunners on in the fourth inning thanks to an error and a walk, but Murphy escaped the jam thanks to an inning-ending double play. He then retired the side in order in the fifth, including a called third strike for the final out of the game.
It's just the fifth run rule-shortened victory of the summer for the Rebels, who matched their season-best by putting 14 runs on the board.
"We weren't trying to win the conference tonight, it's just got to be one game at a time because this conference is really pretty even," said G-R coach Jeff Charley. "We get good games, I don't care where you're at in the conference - top or bottom - you're going to get a good game.
"Tonight we just happened to put the ball in play and got ahead and that hasn't really happened all season. And Cameron Murphy did a good job. He struggled a bit in the first inning but fought through it and got on fire and our defense has done a really good job all season."
Just one of the two South Hardin tallies came earned to Murphy, who struck out eight and walked two while improving to 4-2 on the mound. He also led the Rebels by going 3-for-3 at the plate, and his courtesy runner Colton Dinsdale scored once.
Cooley was 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and an RBI single, while Ehlers finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs. His courtesy runner Zach Pierce stole a base and scored twice. Jeff Tscherter was 2-for-3 with a stolen base and two runs scored, while Phil Zimmerman went 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored. Camden Kickbush reached three times without a hit and scored each time. Brady Kuehl chipped in an RBI single as the Rebels got three runs off Shindelar in the bottom of the fourth.
Cook surrendered 11 runs - seven earned - on nine hits, two walks and a hit batsman over three innings. He struck out two. Shindelar gave up five hits and three earned runs in an inning of relief work.
Gladbrook-Reinbeck travels to Gilman for a conference twinbill with East Marshall (22-6, 16-2) on Monday night as a part of a six-game week to close out the regular season. If the Mustangs win once, the league crown is theirs.
"We've got to take it one game at a time, we know we've got a busy week ahead," Charley said. "East Marshall is on top, they're in the driver's seat, so we've got to take care of business one game at a time. We know we're going to see their best and they're going to see ours, so we'll see what happens."
South Hardin, which beat G-R for one of its two wins during a June 2 doubleheader in Eldora, opens next week with a twinbill at BCLUW.