Zebulon, NC (August 24, 2013) - Matty Johnson smacked a two-run double in the top of the 12th to give the Sox a 4-2 lead, and Nate Striz stranded the tying runners on base in the bottom of the inning to give the Salem Sox an extra innings victory over the Mudcats on Saturday night at Five County Stadium. While Matty Johnson delivered the game-winning punch, starter Brian Johnson (no relation) dazzled in his Carolina League debut, dealing six scoreless innings on the hill. With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Salem Sox are now four ahead of Carolina in pursuit of the final playoff spot. In addition, with Myrtle Beach falling on a walk-off grand slam in Winston-Salem, the Sox are a game and a half ahead of the Pelicans in the race for the outright division title.
Sean Coyle led the Red Sox offense with two extra-base hits and two walks, including a solo homer that broke up a shutout and a no-hitter in the top of sixth. Mudcats starter Robert Whitenack was unhittable through five, but Coyle led off the sixth with a towering fly, his 13th Carolina League blast of the season, to give the Sox a 1-0 edge.
In the top of the seventh, Salem added a huge insurance run thanks to a major Carolina gaffe. Carson Blair doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch, but on a grounder to short, Blair was caught in a rundown between third and home. Back and forth he went, and in a scene reminiscent of The Sandlot, Mudcats pitcher Francisco Jimenez dropped the ball near the plate, allowing Blair to score. The unearned tally gave the Sox a 2-0 lead.
Brian Johnson's day was done after six innings and 90 pitches (56 strikes), giving way to Madison Younginer in the last of the seventh. The Mudcats threatened immediately, with Jerrud Sabourin singling and Alex Lavisky doubling to put runners at second and third with nobody out. From there, Younginer struck out three in a row, but one wild pitch with two outs allowed Sabourin to scurry home from third and make it 2-1.
In the bottom of the ninth, Lavisky recorded a generous double, smacking a line drive to left center that bounced right off Keury De La Cruz' mitt. A sacrifice moved him to third, and Bryson Myles pounded a single over the brought-in infield to even the score at two.
It remained tied into the 12th until Vladimir Frias led off with a single, Coyle received a walk, and Matty Johnson laced the two-run double to the gap off Francisco Valera, who got tagged with the loss.
Striz earned his first Carolina League victory with two scoreless innings out of the pen, but the top arm of the day for the Sox was Brian Johnson, who scattered four hits and two walks in his six strong frames. The lefthander appeared to get stronger as the game progressed, and he successfully navigated around two errors to keep a clean sheet in the runs column.
Winners of 17 of their last 24 games, the Salem Sox shrunk their magic number to clinch a playoff spot down to six.
The Sox and Mudcats will square off again on Sunday afternoon, with the first pitch scheduled for 2 PM. Heri Quevedo will get the ball for Salem opposite Carolina's righty Cole Cook.