Wilmington, DE - The Wilmington Blue Rocks (50-41/11-10) stunned the Lynchburg Hillcats (53-37/13-8) with another walk-off win, rallying for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to snatch a 6-5 victory Thursday night at Frawley Stadium. Nathan Esposito tied the game with an RBI single up the middle before Nick Heath singled to left to score pinch-runner Jose Sanchez from third base to cap the thrilling win. It marked the second time this season the Rocks have posted back-to-back walk-off wins and remarkably have won 15 of their last 17 one-run games.
For the second straight night, the Blue Rocks rallied in the ninth inning. Roman Collins and Chase Vallot ripped a pair of singles before Esposito singled up the middle to plate Collins to tie the game 5-5. After a sacrifice bunt moved runners to second and third, Heath delivered with a base hit to shallow left field. However, on the play, Sanchez slid home well late of the throw, but Lynchburg's catcher Martin Cervenka bobbled the baseball and never applied the tag to Sanchez, resulting in the exciting one-run victory for the Blue Crew.
In the top of the eighth inning, with one out and the bases loaded, Jodd Carter drew a bases loaded walk to push the go-ahead run across for the Hillcats to make it a 5-4 ballgame. The Hillcats offense scored early in the ballgame as well. In the first inning, Gavin Collins lofted a sacrifice fly to make it an early 1-0 deficit for Wilmington. The Lynchburg continued to get to starter Scott Blewett, striking for a single tally in the second on an RBI double by Carter before Lynchburg added two more runs in the third inning on a wild pitch and RBI groundout to make it a 4-0 hole for the Blue Rocks.
After going down quietly in their first look at Lynchburg starter Shane Bieber, the Rocks were able to get to the righty in the fourth inning. The Blue Rocks exploded for four runs on five hits and sent eight batters to the plate. After three straight hits by D.J. Burt, Heath, and Brandon Downes loaded the bases, Chris DeVito lofted a sacrifice fly to get the Blue Crew on the board 4-1. Wander Franco and Collins each followed with RBI singles to make it a 4-3 ballgame before Vallot tied the game up on a fielder's choice.
Wilmington continues the series with Lynhcburg on Friday, July 14. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with RHP Jared Ruxer (4-3, 3.07 ERA) making the start for the Blue Rocks while RHP Aaron Civale (5-2, 2.36 ERA) climbs the mound for the Hillcats. Fans can listen to the game with Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
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For the second straight night, Wilmington walked-off against Lynchburg in their last at-bats. It marks the fifth walk-off win for the Blue Rocks of the season and the second time Wilmington has posted back-to-back walk-off victories. The first back-to-back walk-off wins came against Potomac on May 9 and 10, with the Rocks repeating the feat against Lynchburg on Wednesday and Thursday night. In Thursday's contest, Nick Heath played hero with a run-scoring single in the ninth to win it 6-5. On Wednesday, Wander Franco trotted home in the 13th inning on a wild pitch to take the game 5-4.
D.J. Burt continued his season-high 10-game hitting streak with a single and run scored in the fourth inning of Thursday night's contest. Burt also drew an intentional walk on Thursday, making it the fourth straight game he has drawn a base-on-balls. During his hitting streak, Burt has walked seven times, and leads the team with 56 free passes. In the last month alone, Burt has raised his batting average nearly 20-points, rallying his .202 batting average on June 13 to a .227 mark after Thursday's win.
Roman Collins had another solid night at the plate on Thursday. The outfielder tallied two more hits, including a run-scoring single, and now has four RBIs in his last three games. It was the second straight night Collins recorded multiple hits and is the 18th time he has done that this season. Collins has heated-up with the July weather, slugging five extra base knocks in his 13 hits during the month. The left fielder has feasted off Lynchburg pitching, hitting .368 (14-for-38) with six extra base hits and five RBIs.
The 6-5 win on Thursday is the second-straight one-run game for the Rocks. Wilmington has played in a Carolina League-high 34 one-run games so far in 2017. No other club in the ten-team loop has played in more than 29 single-score affairs. Incredibly for the Blue Rocks, they are now 19-15 in such contests thanks to having won 15 of their last 17 games.
THEY SAID IT: Jamie Quirk
"It started off a little slow (on Thursday night). Scott Blewett didn't have his best stuff but he damaged controlled. It could have been a lot worse but he got through five innings for us. We had a big fourth inning and got back in the game. Good execution, not a lot of balls hit hard but we scored four runs and tied it up. (Shane) Bieber is very good, a good pitcher. Kept the ball down and we were biting on stuff down, but we made him get it up. We strung together four runs there with situational hitting, moving runners, getting runners in. In the ninth, Roman Collins lead off with a base hit, Chase Vallot came up and I wasn't going to bunt him. You don't ask people to do things that they never do and we were just hoping he could do something. He got a base hit to left and the rest was execution on the guys.
"I told Nate Esposito we are going to put the bunt on, but if they do the wheel play and get guys moving around I want you to slash and get it in play. He did it, it was foul, we kept it on and they did (the wheel play) again. He had the big base hit up the middle, the whole middle of the field was wide open and he did a great job of getting the bat on it and punching it through the middle to tie the game. Jecksson Flores executed the bunt to get (the runners) over. Now they walked D.J. Burt and we have bases loaded and are looking to put it in play. Nick Heath put it in play.
"It was a tough read by Jose Sanchez because (Lynchburg's outfield) was in. I could see (the left fielder) wasn't going to catch it, and (Sanchez) got a little confused. All in all it turned out in our favor. He should have been halfway because he wasn't going to be able to score on (a fly ball) anyways. He was thinking, do I tag, and I was saying go, and he got in no-man's-land. Lucky the catcher bobbled the ball and we win the game. The key was Esposito's execution of the slash, Flores bunting those guys over and putting the ball in play.
"You only do (the slash) if they put the wheel play on and not many teams do the wheel play anymore. They gambled, and they lost. Usually if you are going to do the wheel, you do it the first play. If the batter tries it, bunts it foul, fouls it, swings and miss or whatever, you take it off but they stayed with it and Esposito did his job. It's something we talk about, I talked about it with Esposito at home plate. It's a dangerous play, but if he bunts it right at somebody and doesn't slash away they get the lead runner, but you are leaving yourself at risk.
"We talked about (Shane Beiber) before the game. The guy had four walks in 12 starts. He is a strike thrower, he keeps the ball down, he has induced nine double plays on the year. He got Brandon Downes to hit into one. Our plan was to get him up. He is not an overpowering guy, he has a very good slider but he stays down and induces ground balls. We executed in that fourth inning, we made him get the ball up. Like I said, we didn't smash the ball but we got base hits.
"When that bullpen comes in, if they can limit damage (that's great). We had four innings, one run. Franco Terrero came into a tough situation, bases loaded one-out. He just barely missed (the zone) and walked a run in, but then he settled down and got the strikeouts, goes two more innings. Great job by the bullpen. Actually, great job by Scott Blewett, because he was not in rhythm at all. He was fighting himself from the get-go but he limited the damage and settled down. He gave us the fourth and fifth (innings) and lucky we tied, then we asked our bullpen to do their thing.
"It doesn't matter who you are playing, walk-off wins are great momentum going into the next game. We learned big time from the first half that every game counts. We ran out of time in the first half and were playing great, ended up losing by a game in the half. Whether it's the early games in the second half or the late ones, you have to win them now. You never know when you are going to need those wins. Guys are playing to the end; the energy is tremendous. You mentioned it yesterday, why do we score runs early and late. If I knew the answer to that, I'd change it! It just shows our players are playing 27 outs and that's the big thing."
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
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