ZEBULON, N.C. - Lucas Erceg hit a two-run home run in the eighth, but Down East's Matt Lipka went 3-for-5 with three runs and a three-run home run as the Wood Ducks defeated the Mudcats 6-3 on Thursday night at Five County Stadium.
The loss dropped the Mudcats (46-43, 10-11) back into third place in the Southern Division second half standings by a half game behind Down East (34-55, 10-10) and into a 1-1 series tie in their current four game series.
Lipka led the way for the Wood Ducks after scoring both Down East runs in the third and fifth, before later hitting a three-run home run in the sixth. Carlos Garay also had a big night after going 2-for-4 with two RBIs for the visiting Wood Ducks.
The game was scoreless through the second, but the Wood Ducks went on to rally for a run on Carolina's starter Jordan Yamamoto when Lipka scored on a two-out RBI single from Garay.
The run scoring hit gave the Wood Ducks a 1-0 lead and came just moments before the game was stopped in the middle of the third due to an approaching storm. The corresponding rain delay went on to last for :54 minutes.
Yamamoto (2-2, 3.50) endured the long delay and pitched the fourth, but left with the bases loaded and after reaching 85 pitches (51 strikes) in the fifth. Scott Grist followed Yamamoto and allowed one of the three inherited runners to score, thus closing Yamamoto's line at two earned runs allowed on five hits over four and 1/3 innings pitched. He also struck out four and walked three while taking the loss.
Wes Benjamin started for the Wood Ducks and worked through two scoreless frames, but did not return following the delay. He finished with a strikeout and scattered two hits while throwing 27 pitches in his start.
Reliever Steven Bruce followed Benjamin and earned the victory after holding the Mudcats scoreless over four and 1/3 innings. Bruce (2-1, 5.93) struck out six, walked one and allowed three hits in the victory.
Down East lead 2-0 after the fifth, but Lipka then put his club up 5-0 with a three-run home run in the sixth. Grist allowed the Lipka home run, but ended up staying in the game through the ninth. He pitched through four innings and finished with four runs allowed on six hits. Grist also struck out five and threw 67 pitches (51 strikes) in relief of Yamamoto.
Carolina came back with three two-out runs in the eighth off reliever Peter Fairbanks, but the Wood Ducks answered with one more in the ninth while taking a 6-3 lead.
Gatewood drove in the first of the three eighth inning runs with a RBI single to left and Lucas Erceg drove in the other two with a home run to right. The home run was Erceg's ninth of the season and brought his RBI total to a team high 49 this year.
Brad Kuntz followed Grist in the ninth and allowed an inherited runner to score on a force out grounded into by Ian Van Hoosier. Kuntz pitched the final 2/3 innings and allowed one hit while finishing the game.
Adam Choplick pitched the final frame for the Wood Ducks and earned his third save after striking out three straight to end the game. Choplick (S, 3) started the ninth by walking Monte Harrison, but faced only four while earning his third save.
UP NEXT: The series will continue on Friday night with the first pitch scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Five County Stadium. Kodi Medeiros (3-6, 4.96) is scheduled to start for the Mudcats in game three of the four game set on Friday night. The game will air on the Mudcats Radio Network, The Big Dawg 98.5 FM and online at carolinamudcats.com via TuneIn Radio. It will also stream via live video on MiLB.tv.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.