Lancaster 15, Southern Maryland 5
LANCASTER, Pa. - The Lancaster Barnstormers took huge advantage of a rare defensive blunder by Southern Maryland and rolled to a 15-5 victory in the fourth game of the North Division series, advancing to a decisive fifth game on Sunday afternoon.
In the top of the second, with Lancaster already leading, 1-0, Jacob Barfield singled and Chris Proctor walked against Eddie Butler (0-1). Jake Hoover bounced a ball back to Butler, who fired to second to start a double play. Both shortstop Michael Baca and second baseman Michael Wielansky arrived to handle the throw, and Baca dropped the play in the confusion, allowing Lancaster to load the bases. Trace Loehr lashed a single under Alex Crosby’s glove at third to drive home two. Butler struck out Shawon Dunston, Jr. and retired Melvin Mercedes on a liner to third for the second out.
Andretty Cordero grounded a two-run single into left for a 5-0 lead and went to second on the throw home. Ariel Sandoval followed with a base hit to left center to knock in another. Sandoval swiped second before a walk to Anderson Feliz added another runner. Sandoval then grabbed third and scored when Ryan Haug’s throw deflected off Crosby’s glove and into left field. Barfield followed with his third homer of the playoffs, a blast to left for a 9-0 cushion.
The teams exchanged two-run innings, and Zach Collier tripled home a run in the bottom of the fifth off Cameron Gann to cut the lead to 11-3.
Lancaster still had to survive a scare in the bottom of the seventh.
Chase Johnson walked the first two and yielded another triple to Collier as the lead dropped to 11-5. The right-hander retired the next two, then walked Joe DeLuca and Jared Walker to load the bases. Lancaster brought Gray Fenter in to face right-handed batting catcher Ryan Haug, who cranked a long foul before striking out.
The Barnstormers struck for four hits and four runs in the top of the eighth to ice the game.
Oscar De La Cruz and Daryl Thompson will meet in a rematch of Tuesday night’s series opener, won by Southern Maryland, 2-1, Sunday afternoon at 2:05. Fans may tune into the Barnstormers YouTube channel, beginning at 2:00.
NOTES: Gastonia and High Point are tied at 2-2 in the South series…Cordero was 3-for-5 and drove in four runs…He and Barfield are tied for the most RBI in the series with seven…Barfield has homered in three straight games…Lancaster pitchers combined to strike out 14 batters in the game, nine by Gann in six innings…Fenter whiffed all four batters he faced…The Barnstormers are 1-3 in Game Five’s in franchise history.
High Point 6, Gastonia 1
High Point and Gastonia will meet at 4:35 p.m. on Sunday at Truist Point with the winner advancing to the Atlantic League Championship Series. Sunday’s winner will meet the winner of the North Division Championship between Lancaster, Pa. and Southern Maryland. That series is going to a fifth game as well after Lancaster’s 15-5 win on Saturday night. Tickets for the critical Rockers-Honey Hunters contest are priced at $10 and are available at the Rockers Ticket Office starting at 1 p.m. Sunday or online at HighPointRockers.com.
Zander Wiel and Roldani Baldwin each hit critical two-run homers for the Rockers to support the three-hit pitching of Rockers’ starter Neil Uskali.
Uskali almost didn’t make it through the first inning. He walked Reece Hampton to open the game then allowed an RBI double to Jack Reinheimer. Uskali then walked Joseph Rosa and, after retiring the next two hitters, hit Luis Castro with a pitch to load the bases. After a mound visit from pitching coach Frank Viola, Uskali escaped after allowing just the lone run. He then proceeded to retire the next 12 batters in order as the Rockers built a 4-1 lead.
“He was almost out of there quick,” said manager Jamie Keefe of Uskali’s first inning troubles. “I almost went to the bullpen early. But after that, he grabbed the ball and he was lights out. It was beautiful.”
After escaping the first, the Rockers responded with a four-run bottom of the first. Michael Russell beat out an infield single to open the inning and scored when Logan Morrison hit an RBI double. Morrison scored on an RBI single by Quincy Latimore to put the Rockers ahead 2-1. That’s when Wiel unloaded his first homer of the postseason, scoring Latimore ahead of him for a 4-1 High Point advantage.
Gastonia didn’t generate another baserunner until Hampton and Reinheimer had back-to-back singles with two outs in the fifth but were stranded when Rosa flew out to left. Uskali put the Honey Hunters down in order in the sixth and sandwiched two outs around a walk in the seventh before Keefe went to Tyler Higgins out of the bullpen. Higgins retired all four hitters he faced through the eighth inning and Ryan Dull had a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth with a pair of strikeouts to close out the contest.
Roldani Baldwin hit his first homer of the postseason with Tyler Ladendorf aboard in the bottom of the eighth to add insurance to the 6-1 lead.
Usakali went 6.2 innings, allowed three hits and one run while walking three and striking out three.
“Neil pitched his butt off and the two guys who came out of the bullpen pitched their butts off, too,” said Keefe.
Keefe was asked what turned it around for Uskali after the early hiccup.
“Like (catcher) Logan Moore said, we have to flip the script on them,” said Keefe. “We can’t pitch them the same way we’ve pitched them all year, and that’s what we did. He got the two-seamer going.”
While the announced crowd at Truist Point numbered over 1,600, it was a lively, loud and partisan crowd that fueled the Rockers throughout the game.
“This is probably as loud as it gets,” said Keefe of the Saturday night crowd at Truist Point. “If we can get this same crowd tomorrow, if you can’t get up for them, you can’t get up for anything.”
NOTES: Neil Uskali became the first pitcher in the 24-year history of the Atlantic League playoffs to gain a postseason win with a last name that starts with U. There has been an Atlantic League playoff winning pitcher with a last name that starts with 24 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Neil Uskali became the first with a U. There has never been a winning pitcher whose last name starts with X.
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