BY MICHAEL MROZIAK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — NIAGARA FALLS — With two outs and the bases loaded, A.J. Hammond hit a game-winning RBI single up the middle to give the Niagara Power a 5-4 win Saturday night in front of 525 fans at Sal Maglie Stadium.
It was the Power’s third straight win in the New York Collegiate Baseball League, improving their record to 4-2. It was also yet another example of a Power team that, early in the NYCBL season, is proving capable of big finishes in the end.
Both the fans and team are pleasantly discovering that.
“We had a guy that came in and spoke to our team today. At lunch we have a guy come in and speak a devotional, and he told the guys don’t ever quit. Don’t ever quit,” said Power head coach Josh Rebandt.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Jarrett James and Ivan Acuna walked to get on base. Ryan Wagley then singled to advance the runners. After Caleb Lang flied out to center, allowing James to score the game-tying run, John Mulhern came in as a pinch runner for Acuna. Hunter Bingham was intentionally walked to load up the bases, with Olean hoping they could get pitcher Noah Raspler to get Hammond to hit into a force play or simply get out.
Instead, Hammond smacked what was his only hit of the night, sending Mulhern home with the winning run.
“It was just a big team win. I was 0-for-4 going into that at-bat and those guys just got on base for me and I put the bat on the all and got it in,” said Hammond.
After holding off an early challenge by the Oilers to take an early lead, Niagara got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the opening inning. James walked to take first base then advanced to second when Acuna’s well-placed bunt was misplayed by Olean first baseman Mark Lepri and Acuna got on safely. The Power’s number three hitter, Wagley, then singled to bring James home, followed two hitters later by Bingham hitting a sacrifice fly to right to score Acuna.
After an uneventful second inning, the Oilers cut the lead to 2-1 in the top of the third. Power starter Will Kirby walked the first two Olean batters. Ryan Kohlhofer, who laid a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner in the first inning, sacrificed again to advance the runners. That set up Michael Fahrman’s sacrifice fly, which scored Lancaster, NY native and Erie Community College student Brett Bauth from third.
The Power were error prone and two of the five they committed in the game allowed the Oilers to tie it up at 2-2 in the top of the sixth. James bobbled the ball at third base, allowing James Ott to get aboard. Two hitters later, Derek Turocy hit a line shot into right that scored Ott to score from second.
Olean then took the lead in the top of the seventh. Austin Johnson led off and was hit by a pitch, giving him a free trot to first. He advanced on yet another sacrifice by Kohlhofer. After Fahrman grounded out, Jack Elliott walked to get on base. Pinch hitter Ted Dilts followed with an RBI single that scored Johnson. Ott then singled to score Elliott.
The Power replaced Kirby on the mound with Jack Moore, who combined with Hammond to pick off Ott at first and stop the bleeding. They then got a run back in the bottom of the seventh. Sean Visconti led off with a standup double then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter Tyler Marcinko. Visconti then scored on a passed ball by Olean’s catcher, Fahrman.
Niagara threatened to at least tie the game up, as James got to third on a wild pitch by Olean’s Aaron Grasing. Acuna, who walked to get on base, got to second on the same play. There were two outs, though, and the Power’s scoring threat ended when Wagley went down swinging.
Niagara’s defense came up big in the eighth. With one out, Olean’s Johnson singled to center to load the bases. Base runner Samuel Kysor looked tempted to try for home, but a strong throw from center fielder Lang to home plate kept Kysor at third.
The Power then pulled off a double play to end the inning, starting with Gabriel Sevigny snaring the ball at second. After Sevigny flicked the ball to Visconti for the force out at second, Visconti got the ball to first in time for the third out.
Niagara’s Zach Verner, who overcame a less-than-stellar performance to save Niagara’s 2-1 win over Syracuse on Thursday, came in to the game in the top of the ninth and was much more sharp, retiring three straight batters, striking one of them out. After his teammates came through in the bottom of the ninth, he was awarded the win.
Raspler recorded both a blown save and the loss.
Leading up to the season opener, the Power’s coaching staff and management were concerned about what they felt was last year’s lack of team cohesion in times of adversity. They’ve shown hints already that this year’s team is much more closely bonded.
“For sure, on and off the field,” said left fielder and catcher Jack Trotman, who hails from nearby East Amherst. “We’re great buddies already and, coming from all different parts of the country, not knowing anybody, you get some guys together and… it’s a good team.”
The Oilers, who fell to 1-4 on the season, host the Power this afternoon at 3 p.m. in the third and final meeting in a three-game series which began Friday night with Niagara’s 14-11 win in 11 innings.