Woodbridge, VA - The Wilmington Blue Rocks (1-0) were resilient at the plate and ultimately earned a 5-3 victory against the Potomac Nationals (0-1) on Opening Day at Pfitzner Stadium Thursday night. Third baseman Emmanuel Rivera highlighted the offense with a pair of RBI doubles in his Wilmington debut, Gabriel Cancel homered in his first at-bat as a Blue Rock and returning first baseman Chris DeVito delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the top of the eighth to help Wilmington earn the victory.
Wilmington struck for the game's first run on Cancel's solo home run in the first inning. Potomac quickly answered with an RBI sacrifice fly from Ian Sagdal and a solo homer from Jake Noll to put the Blue Crew behind 2-1. Rivera tied the game up with his first double of the game to plate Cancel in the fourth inning. In the top of the sixth, Rudy Martin reached on a bunt single, stole second and third base before Rivera drove him home with his second RBI double of the contest to make it 3-2.
Rhett Wiseman tied it for Potomac with a lead-off solo blast in the bottom of the seventh knotting the score at 3-3. Wilmington pulled away in the final two innings with a clutch, two-out RBI single from DeVito to score Khalil Lee in the eighth and Angelo Castellano lifted a sacrifice fly in the ninth to add a key insurance run.
The Blue Rocks used a combination of four pitchers in Cristian Castillo, Jared Ruxer, Arnaldo Hernandez and Walker Sheller . Ruxer earned the victory with 2.1 innings of relief while Sheller earned the save recording the final four outs of the ballgame.
Wilmington and Potomac will continue the four-game series on Friday, April 6 at Pfitzner Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with RHP Jace Vines making the start for the Blue Rocks while RHP Sterling Sharp climbs the mound for Potomac. Fans can listen to the game as Matt Janus will have the call on 89.7 WGLS-FM.
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With the victory, Wilmington improved to 14-12 all-time on Opening Day. They have won two of the last three openers against Potomac. Last season, the Blue Crew won 6-2 at Frawley Stadium before falling to the P-Nats in 2016 at home, 6-1. This year's opener marked the 16th time the Blue Rocks have played away from Frawley Stadium to start a season.
The Blue Rocks and Nationals have now met for three consecutive Opening Day games. Prior to the three-year stretch, Wilmington played the Myrtle Beach Pelicans 13 of the previous 14 years on Opening Day. Dating back to last season, Wilmington has now won 17 of the 27 total meetings against Potomac foes.
Newcomers Emmanuel Rivera and Gabriel Cancel had nice Advanced-A debuts in the victory. Rivera, the 2017 South Atlantic League batting champion, picked up his first multi-hit game of the season with a pair of RBI doubles. Last year, the third baseman collected 37 multi-hit games. Cancel hit a solo homer in his first plate appearance of the season and added a double to his ledger.
THEY SAID IT: Darryl Kennedy, Manager
"(Gabriel Cancel) got all of that pitch in the first inning. I thought with the weather, the cold and it being our first game I thought we swung the bat pretty well. I know we struck out quite a few times, but we got some big hits early and some real big hits late."
"I hope so. (On expecting offense delivering with timely extra-base hits) Like we talked about before, they aren't really power hitters. They work gap to gap and that's what they did for us tonight. We got some big hits tonight."
"It's always good to get that first hit out of the way. That was a good at-bat by (Chris DeVito) and scored a big run. I was sitting there worried it's opening night and we are going to test out the new extra inning rules. It was a good at-bat. (Angelo) Castellano, even though it was a sacrifice fly, he did a great job scoring that insurance run in the ninth inning for us."
"Definitely a luxury for us if Rudy (Martin) keeps using his speed. He laid down a perfect bunt and our thing with him is we want him to use his speed. He laid down a good bunt and then took over by stealing both second and third base."
"We didn't want Arnaldo (Hernandez) to go too far because he is our fifth starter. He threw quite a few pitches so we went ahead and brought in (Walker) Sheller and did a nice job getting a ground ball (in the eighth inning) and then bend a little bit in the ninth inning. For the most part, I thought all the guys pitched well."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.