If close games and extra-inning contests build a team's character and resolve, Bradenton will be in good shape the rest of the season.
Three days after losing a 16-inning contest to the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Marauders rebounded with a 7-6, 18-inning victory over the Tampa Yankees.
Center fielder Mel Rojas Jr. plated the go-ahead run in the 18th, two innings after after throwing out the potential winning run. And Josh Poytress hurled six innings of relief to maintain a 0.00 ERA as the Pirates' Class A Advanced affiliate won the longest game in team history.
"It was a battle. We all played really well and never gave up for the entire 18 innings," said Poytress. "We played a helluva game and it was a lot of fun. It was a huge confidence-booster and we didn't show any sign of give, even when they were in a position to win.
"It showed that we have a lot of fight and spirit. We all get along really well and the bond we have early in the season says a lot. When everybody is friends, you pull for each other. You're trying to get outs for everybody and you're giving 100 percent."
Bradenton scored four times in the seventh to snap a 2-2 tie, but the Yankees got one back in the bottom half on Hector Rabago's RBI double. Rob Segedin hit a two-run homer in the eighth and Kyle Roller tied it with a solo shot in the ninth.
The Marauders loaded the bases with one out in the 14th -- the first time either team got a runner to third base since the ninth -- but Dan Grovatt struck out and Benji Gonzalez was thrown out at the plate.
In the 16th, it was Bradenton's turn to sweat. Neil Medchill led off with a single against Poytress -- who was in his fifth inning -- and advanced to second on Kyle Higashioka's sacrifice. Rabago followed with a base hit up the middle, but Rojas nailed Medchill at the plate.
"We had two outs and there were runners on first and second and I wanted to get ahead," said Poytress, a 21-year-old right-hander. "I threw a low fastball and he got a really good piece of it. The ball almost hit me, I missed it by an inch or two. But Mel had the most perfect throw anybody could make. It was chest-high and [catcher Carlos] Paulino held on in the collision. And that was huge."
Rojas, a 2010 third-round pick, added, "Some people say I have a good arm. I was aware of that runner and I didn't want to let him score. When it came to me in center field, I just threw it as hard as I could."
Rabago (0-1), a second baseman, came on to pitch the 18th and recorded two quick outs. But Benji Gonzalez reached on an error by Garrison Lassiter -- Rabago's replacement -- and scored on Rojas' triple to break the deadlock.
"I told myself I couldn't let a position player get me out," Rojas said after his second straight three-hit performance. "I had to bring the runner home because I didn't want to keep playing. [Rabago] actually had a pretty good fastball, but I was looking for something slower and that's why it went to the left-center field gap.
The Marauders improved to a Florida State League-best 5-2 in extra-inning games and 6-5 in one-run decisions.
"We played hard and we battled. We never give up, that is probably why we've played all these extra-inning games," Rojas said. "We're going to be champions this year, we're really good. We're still getting to know each other, but we have the full package -- pitching, hitting and defense."
Poytress finally gave way to Jeff Inman, who worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the 18th to record his first save of the season. Since being promoted from Class A West Virginia last month, Poytress has pitched 16 2/3 scoreless innings. He allowed one run in three South Atlantic League relief appearances and boasts a 0.33 ERA for the season.
Gerrit Cole, MLB.com's No. 10 prospect, got the start for the Marauders and allowed two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five over five innings.
Michael O'Brien, the first of nine Yankees pitchers, yielded two runs on six hits and a pair of walks over five frames. He struck out four.