By MICHAEL MROZIAK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — NIAGARA FALLS — The Niagara Power found the run production they sorely missed in recent games, but it was Matt Brooks' bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth inning that brought home their winning run.
Niagara's eight-game losing streak came to an end Friday night with a 9-8 win over the Oneonta Outlaws before 575 fans at Sal Maglie Stadium.
Given the team's luck of late, the Power are more than happy to win it this way, or any way.
"It was a crazy way to finish," said Niagara head coach Josh Rebrandt. "I was hoping (relief pitcher Travis) Laitar would be able to get the save. He battled out of it… Matt Brooks, that last at-bat, one of the best we've had all year."
Brooks battled his way to a full count, with the bases loaded and two men out. After Cameron Wilkie got aboard with a triple, Oneonta intentionally walked the next two batters, Scott Gillespie and Buddy McCoy, to load the bases and give them the opportunity to get forced outs at home. The strategy worked for two outs, until Brooks stepped to the plate.
It was a dramatic finish that seemed unlikely early in the game, when the Power found the run production they had sorely missed during their prolonged slump.
Niagara loaded the bases in the bottom of the first inning on three walks by Oneonta's starting pitcher Jake Cryts. Jimmy Landes smacked a base hit that brought home three runs, scored by Johnny Blue Craig, Gillespie and McCoy. After Brooks took first base on yet another walk, Michael Kerr tripled to bring home two more runs, scored by Landes and Brooks. Kerr had an inside-the-park home run in mind and rounded third as the throw was coming in, but his aggression backfired as he was tagged out at home plate.
Still, it was an inning productive enough to help the Power remain in charge, as the Outlaws cut the lead to 5-3 by the fifth inning.
Niagara got three more runs in the sixth inning to increase the lead to 8-3, but Oneonta slowly crept back into the game with a pair of two-run innings in the seventh and eighth.
Oneonta third basemen Howard Joe had an exceptional bottom of the seventh in the field, snaring a line drive off the bat of Jimmy Landes and fielding to hard hits to end Niagara's inning in 1-2-3 fashion.
The Outlaws evened the score in the top of the ninth, when Josh Treff walked then advanced on Health Holder's base hit. Holder then stole second, aided by a bad throw by Laitar which was dropped by second baseman Perry Rigby. That blunder allowed Treff to come home with the game-tying run.
Looking back in hindsight, would Rebrandt have preferred Laitar hold the ball and let Holder take the base while working on Howard Joe at the plate for the final out?
"Right before (the play) I took a mound visit, and I told Travis to get it into the hand of our second baseman, Rigby," Rebrandt said. "That way Perry would be able to walk him back to first.
"We did what we were supposed to do, we just didn't execute."
Laitar (2-0) ended up getting the win instead of the save, as the Power improved their record to 10-17. Niagara travels to Oneonta today for a rematch with the Outlaws. The first pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
First, though, the team wanted to enjoy something they haven't had for nearly two weeks, a post-game victory shout in their locker room.
"Now we can move forward," Rebrandt said. "The monkey is off our back."