In a 4-4 stalemate, the rallying Rocks manufactured another ninth inning rally. Frabasilio reached on an infield single before Jecksson Flores and D.J. Burt showed great patience at the plate and drew back-to-back walks. After a strikeout, Downes battled Lynchburg reliever Kieran Lovegrove and ultimately drew the bases loaded, two-out, full count pitch for a ball to drive in the game-winning run.
Both teams went back-and-forth all game long. Wilmington scored runs in the first two innings with an RBI groundout by Chris DeVito and run-scoring double from Frabasilio to give the Rocks an early 2-0 lead after two complete innings. After Jared Ruxer tossed four scoreless innings, Lynchburg tied the game up in the top of the fifth inning on a Conner Marabell two-run homer over the right field wall, making it a 2-2 ballgame.
The Rocks answered back in their half of the fifth inning and manufactured a two-out run. Nick Heath drew a walk, stole second base before Downes laced a single up the middle and plated Heath to allow the Blue Crew to retake the lead, 3-2. However, the Hillcats scratched their way to a lead after Gavin Collins tied the game with a sacrifice fly before Ka'ai Tom singled through the middle to put the Rocks behind 4-3. In the sixth, the rallying Rocks knotted the game when Flores singled up the middle to tie the game again, this time at a 4-4 stalemate.
Downes finished the night 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI while the relief of Luis Rico and Walker Sheller shutout the Hillcats the final 3.2 innings and combined for seven strikeouts.
Wilmington concludes the series with Lynhcburg on Saturday, July 15. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with LHP Cristian Castillo (6-4, 2.61 ERA) making the start for the Blue Rocks while RHP Triston McKenzie (7-4, 2.91 ERA) climbs the mound for the Hillcats. Fans can listen to the game with Matt Janus and Cory Nidoh on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
PEBBLES OF KNOWLEDGE:
There is no question that the Blue Rocks start the marathon in a sprint most games. The Rocks struck in the first inning yet again on Friday night, making it the eighth time Wilmington has scored in the opening frame in July. Overall, the Rocks have scored 55 runs in the first, the most runs scored in any inning this season. It is no surprise that when the Rocks score first, they win more often; they have posted a 34-14 record when leading after one inning, opposed to being 17-27 when opponents strike the scoreboard first.
The Blue Rocks were a tough third out on Friday night, sparking a pair of two-out rallies that scored two runs. In Wednesday's contest, the Rocks also pushed across two-runs with two-outs en route to a 5-4 13-inning win over the Hillcats. The trend continued from the Potomac series, where 10 of Wilmington's 17 runs scored came with two-outs to help the Blue Rocks secure a series win and 5-2 road trip. Nick Heath has been especially clutch in the situation, with three of his six RBIs on the season coming with two away in the frame, including the walk-off RBI single in Thursday's 6-5 victory.
Brandon Downes continues to produce for the Blue Rocks in the middle of the lineup. With two more runs driven in, the outfielder has an impressive 17 RBI in just 27 games played. Both of his RBI in the thrilling win came with two outs in the inning and each put the Rocks ahead at the time. In addition, with another double in the first inning, 18 of his 30 hits have come in the extra-base hit variety. He has six doubles, three triples and nine home runs, which is second-most on the team.
The Rocks struggled mightily in the first half in terms of winning one-run games losing 10 of their first 22 games of the season by a single run. However, over the last 18 one-run affairs, the Blue Rocks have come out on top in 16 of them, including the string of three-straight walk-off wins to start the series against Lynchburg. Overall, the Rocks have played in 35 one-run games this year, the most of any team in the Carolina League. No other club in the ten-team loop has played in more than 29 single-score affairs.
"I thought Jared Ruxer did a nice job (Friday night). He hit a wall, I think the home run shook him up and he wasn't the same after that. He did very well. Then our bullpen, you have to give them credit. Luis Rico, Walker Scheller, came into tough situations and Rico's back acted up a bit. We got almost four innings out of our bullpen and again, all scoreless. You look at both sides, their bullpen and ours and it was a difference in the bullpen once the starters came out. We executed as well. I was very proud of the guys in the last inning with the walks. They laid off some tough pitches, they didn't get over anxious, they stayed within themselves in the moment and made the guy throw the ball over the plate.
"I'm going to say no (on ever being a part of three-straight walk-off wins). It's one of those things when you are playing, you have momentum. It's more like, when you are playing a certain team, it's just carry-overs. You stay close and good things happen, make the plays and you force other teams to make mistakes. One (walk-off) was a wild pitch (Wednesday), another the crazy base hit (Thursday), and then we forced the guy to throw strikes (Friday) and he didn't do it. What I like is they are staying under control, they aren't going crazy, they are checking their heartbeats and doing a good job.
"I think (Luis Rico's improvement) is more mental. He adjusted his head. Like most players, they are upset when they get sent down (from Double A) and he let it affect his play. They don't realize, I have to do good to go back. I like to say, when a guy comes down you give him 24 hours to get over it. They get upset, but they have to get their act together and go then go back. It took him a couple outings but he is back. That's the only way you get back to the higher level is doing your job and everyone takes notice.
"It's all about the heartbeat. Jecksson Flores, Brandon Downes getting the two-out RBIs, those are crushers for the opponents. The walks in the last inning are just a result of good at-bats, checking your heartbeat, relaxing, pitcher is in trouble, not you, and go from there.
"The one-run games, we came out on the short end early in the season but it was the learning curve. Yes, we would have liked to have the winning record but it taught them a lot of things. One-run games you win by execution, by slowing your heart rate down, by taking what they give you. Don't try to be a hero, don't try to hit homeruns, just move the line and we have been doing that now for a couple months."
Brandon Downes, Outfielder
"(On walk-off walk) I've been chasing (pitches) a bit so I went up there (on Friday night) and reminded myself when I got there that they just have to come to me. (Kieran Lovegrove) was a little wild. He walked the two batters before me, so I was just going up there trying to see something in the zone. I knew he threw pretty hard so I was trying to not chase anything. He was letting it go up (in the zone) so I didn't want to chase high. Then I got 2-0 and I was trying to get the head (of the bat) out. The 2-0 and 2-1, I fouled them both off. Then I went into two strike mode and tried to battle. The last pitch wasn't very close so it was very easy to lay off, but the one before was a bit closer. It was a good, encouraging at-bat for me and a good one for the team.
"You listen to things that coaches want you to do all the time. I always tried to be a coachable guy and it's only gotten me so far. I would always try and put blame on something else. This year, I took what they had to say and then did my own thing too. I'm just trying to own my swing and go up there more comfortable, more confident. I found a good grove where my swing and everything is on point. It's a lot easier from last year just to pick up where I left off.
"(On adjustments made against Lynchburg) I'm just trying to slow things down. When I start chasing, that's just my front foot getting too aggressive. Maybe starting too late, something like that. So I just worked hard in the cages like you always do but I didn't try to let (the slow start to the series) get me down too much because it is going to happen. You can't have those great games like I was having all the time. I just battled through it and I was able to have a good game (Friday) and help the team get the win.
"It's anyone (in charge of the Gatorade baths). Nobody really wants to go to extra innings so I'll undo the top, hopefully that helps bring some luck. After my incident (on Wednesday) when I missed (Wander Franco), the next night, they didn't even go after Nick Heath! They got Heath once and then they just threw it on D.J. Burt which was hilarious, that made my night. (Friday night), I got on base and took off running because I wanted to see who they were going to get this time, and both of them got Chase Vallot so it was pretty funny.
"Compared to last year, it was a drag trying to get through the season. This year, we have a great group of guys that love to be around the ballpark. Everyone loves each other, it's a great environment. We are competing every game, putting up numbers, and our pitchers are going out there and doing the same thing for us. It's definitely great. We are in second place and we are one of the hotter teams in the Carolina League right now. No matter what the score is, we are going to come back and give you a good game. So far, everything has worked pretty well for us.
25 Years of Blue Rocks Baseball
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