By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Power hosted the Syracuse Salt Cats Wednesday in the second game of a home-and-home series, and found themselves in an early battle of the bats that ended with the Power winning, 9-4, on what was Niagara Gazette Night at the ballpark.
As much as Niagara has gained a reputation as a good hitting team, aggressive base running has become an equally important part of the Power's offense. Last night, the Power stole nine bases successfully, with Johnny Blue Craig stealing four of them alone. Those stolen bases helped Niagara take control early and then pad its lead later in the game.
"That's one thing I told the guys at our first practice… be ready to run," said Niagara Power head coach Josh Rebrandt. "I like to be aggressive. I like to take advantage of a team's defense that may not be ready to make a play. (We'll) steal as many bases as we can when those situations come up."
After spotting the Salt Cats a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, the Power responded with three runs of their own.
The Salt Cats scored again to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the second but Niagara quickly responded in the bottom of the inning. After Cody Pentecost walked to first and then stole second, Perry Rigby reached first on a single. That set up Buddy McCoy, who lined a shot down the left field line for a standup double that brought his two mates home and increased the lead to 5-3. McCoy was later brought home to increase the lead to 6-3.
The Salt Cats got one back to cut the lead to 6-4 in the top of the third, but the Power were able to pitch their way out of a bases-loaded situation to prevent further damage.
The game then quieted down in the fourth inning. Niagara did not score again until the bottom of the sixth, when Tyler Simmons scored on a sacrifice fly by Rigby to put Niagara ahead by 7-4. An errant throw to second base on one of Craig's four steals allowed another run to score. Rigby then put an exclamation mark on his night's performance with an eighth inning triple that scored another run to make it 9-4.
The win improved Niagara's record to 6-5 on the season and was a welcomed response to their shutout loss in Syracuse the night before.
"We talked about it (Tuesday). I told them we'd come around at some point," said Rebrandt. "We have a lot of good hitters. We had a lot of guys who were squaring up balls. They just weren't falling for us. Tonight we got some balls to fall for us and we put some pressure on their defense, and I think that helped us out."
Niagara's return home to Sal Maglie Stadium, after several days on the road, offered the estimated 305 fans in attendance what's been a rare sight so far this season — clear skies and dry weather. It was a treat not only for the fans but a nice morale booster for the home team.
"That was another thing we talked about, too," added Rebrandt. "We'd been on the road for the past four or five days and I think it took a toll on the guys. I told them (Tuesday) that once we get a little bit of a change in scenery I think we're going to see a difference in the energy."
The Power are off today but remain home Friday and Saturday to host the Geneva Red Wings. Friday's opening pitch against the Wings is set for 7 p.m.