TROY - Even though the ValleyCats won't play for a New York-Penn League Championship this season, they proved Thursday night they'll still fight for every win.
With the bases loaded, one out and the 'Cats trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Taylor Jones fell behind in the count 0-2, before he smashed a bases-clearing double to right-centerfield. Rodrigo Ayarza and Carmen Benedetti scored easily, and Ronnie Dawson kicked in the after-burners to score the winning run all the way from first base, securing a 4-3 victory over the Staten Island Yankees.
Both starting pitchers turned in stellar performances. The 'Cats Makay Nelson was nearly perfect in the start, allowing just one walk in five hitless innings. Kolton Mahoney threw 63 of his 94 pitches for strikes in seven innings. He finished with eight punch outs, surrendering one run in the first inning, and neither starter was the pitcher of record.
Angelo Serrano (1-2) earned the win in relief, his first as a ValleyCat, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth. David Sosebee (2-2) suffered the loss, retiring just one batter in the bottom of the ninth.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Tri-City (36-36) jumped out to an early lead, striking first on Chuckie Robinson's RBI single in the first inning.
Neither team would score again until the sixth, when the Yankees (41-30) tied the score at one. Nick Solak singled with one out, and advanced to second base on a wild pitch from Edgardo Sandoval. Billy Fleming made Sandoval pay for the mistake, ripping a single to left field to plate Solak.
Things looked bleak for the 'Cats when Sandoval allowed two more runs in the eighth inning. Eduardo Navas walked to lead off the inning, and Ben Ruta came in to pinch-run for him. Dom Thompson-Williams doubled to right to put runners at second and third, but Sandoval got Solak on a strikeout, the only time he was retired in the ballgame. Billy Fleming grounded out, scoring Ruta, and Timmy Robinson singled to score Thompson-Williams, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
In the ninth, Ayarza and Benedetti led off with back-to-back singles. Robinson attempted a sacrifice bunt, but popped out to catcher Jerry Seitz. Dawson walked to set up Jones' walk-off hit.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED: Ayarza's single in the ninth inning ended up as a fairly controversial play. He lifted the hit into left field, and Nathan Mikolas made a diving stop, but trapped the ball under his glove. Home plate umpire Raul Moreno originally called Ayarza out, but 'Cats Manager Lamarr Rogers asked for a differral to base umpire John Budka. After a quick conversation, the umpires awarded Ayarza first base.
Ayarza finished the night 3-for-4 with a triple and two runs scored. He's hitting .310 in his last 10 games, with 13 hits, three RBI, four runs scored and two stolen bases.
QUOTABLE: "That was his best outing of the season," Rogers said after the game, referring to Nelson's spectacular performance. Nelson had come off of two games in which he'd combined to walk seven batters, but walked just one Thursday night.
PLAYOFF CHASE: Although the 'Cats have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason, they still have a chance to play spoiler. The Yankees sit two games ahead of Connecticut in the Wild Card chase with four games remaining. The Tigers' game against Lowell was cancelled Thursday, and they will likely play a double header tomorrow. The ValleyCats have two games remaining against the Yankees and Tigers.
NEXT UP: Tri-City hosts Staten Island in game two of the three game set tomorrow night, September 2. Right-hander Tyler Britton (0-1, 1.84) takes the bump for the 'Cats, opposite the Yankees' Freicer Perez (2-4, 4.17).