BY MICHAEL MROZIAK email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — It took a bizarre series of errors to give the Niagara Power their game-tying and go-ahead runs. It then took a pitching effort with drama worthy of a big league game to make that lead stand.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Power closer Zach Verner twice got himself out of 3-0 holes by hurling strikeouts that sealed Niagara’s 2-1 win over the Syracuse Salt Cats in the Power’s home opener Thursday night at Sal Maglie Stadium.
With the win, the Power improved to 2-2 in the New York Collegiate Baseball League. Verner picked up his first save of the season while Niagara starter Perry Turner, a late addition to the roster from Jones County Community College in Mississippi, got the win in his first start.
“Verner’s the guy that usually attacks the strike zone right out of the gate,” said Power head coach Josh Rebandt. “Tonight he struggled a little bit but he found himself a way to win. He competed for us and that’s what a closer needs to do if they don’t have their best stuff on a certain day.”
Even Verner, a sophomore at John Carroll University, admitted he was not his sharpest. After giving up a walk, a single and then an intentional walk to load up the bases with one out, he twice found himself one bad pitch away from walking the game-tying run home. Twice, he got the hitters to swing into full counts and then swing again for strike three.
He got a talk from his teammates midway through that jam but he also pointed to some written notes on his own glove as a source of inspiration.
“In a game, when I’m not throwing my best and I’m getting behind batters I have a couple of things on my glove that I look at,” Verner said. “One is from my grandmother, who has cancer, who says ‘dream big.’ The other is Matthew 19:26. It’s all just a reminder it’s in God’s hands.”
The Power’s own hands proved quite effective in the early stages of the game, as strong defensive plays kept the game scoreless. Third baseman Tyler Marcinko made two big plays in the top of the second inning, snaring a line drive and then running down a tough grounder that he threw to first on time for the final out of a one-two-three inning.
The Salt Cats came through with some big defensive plays of their own early. Ithaca native and Canisius Golden Griffin Anthony Massicci made a diving catch in shallow left field that robbed Niagara’s Hunter Bingham of a bloop single.
Massicci also scored the game’s opening run in the fourth inning. After hitting a single to get on base, he advanced to second on Cody LaBadia’s sacrifice bunt and then took third on a balk by Turner. He came home when Tom Nagy grounded out to shortstop.
After three quiet innings at the plate, the Power jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the seventh. Jarrett James singled to get aboard, stole second base and then took third on Ivan Acuna’s sacrifice bunt.
That set up Caleb Lang’s unusual trip around the bases. His grounder to third base was played by Anthony Morino, but the throw to first was off the mark and rolled past LaBadia toward the fence in foul territory. James scored from third but Lang kept running. As he headed around second, the throw from right fielder Nagy also missed its mark and Lang was able to come home with the go-ahead run.
“It’s always nice to come back and win in front of the home fans,” said Power coach Josh Rebandt. “Once you kind of get settled into your home park and you start to feel what it’s like to play at home, you have more fun. Then when you win it’s going to bring more fans.”
The Power travels to Olean tonight to take on the Oilers, beginning at 7 p.m., then returns to Sal Maglie on Saturday night to host the Oilers, also at 7 p.m.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette.