AVOCA – The importance of a strong reliever in baseball cannot be overestimated.

Just ask Sam Porter.

Following a pretty strong outing from starter Joey Cunningham in their Western Iowa Conference contest against Missouri Valley, the AHSTW senior went the final two innings.

He hit a batter with two outs in the sixth inning and gave up a leadoff single in the seventh, but got four strikeouts along the way, including the final out. That preserved a 5-2 win over the Big Reds Tuesday night in Avoca.

“I hit a batter in the sixth inning and that was completely my fault,” said Porter. “But I thought Joey did a good job getting through five innings and that made my job pretty easy going into the sixth. I felt comfortable right away and trusted my defense.”

No pressure on Porter, who had enough velocity on his pitches to get the job done.

“That was our strategy, to get Cunningham through five and allow Sam to come in and finish the game,” said coach Jason Holst. “If (Cunningham) was rolling we were going to keep him going ... but that’s what we were hoping to do. It’s a short week for us an we were hoping to use our three pitchers a little more effectively ... and it worked out.”

Cunningham may have helped set up his senior classmate’s save opportunity, but it was a three-run burst in the first inning that also provided essential aid

A double, triple and bloop fly just behind the third base bag sent home Joel Sampson, Porter and Blake Holst to give the Vikings a 3-0 lead they’d never relinquish.

The defense bent a bit as the Big Reds scored a pair of unearned runs in the second inning. But the Viking defense settled down and allowed just four base runners the rest of the night, none of them getting past second base.

The Vikings re-established the three-run cushion with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Joey Goins scored on a fourth-inning Missouri Valley error, while Cunningham singled in Holst in the fifth.

“Our defense let us down that one inning but we worked through it,” said coach Holst, who was happy to see two additional runs score. “It’s nice to get the insurance runs and that puts more pressure on their offense.”

The Vikings have a road game Thursday against Logan-Magnolia to wrap up Week 2 of the season.

To reach Brian Rathjen, send correspondence to sports@ant-news.com or phone (712) 243-2624.