AVON – With their largest crowd of the season on hand and the Crushers trailing going into the bottom of the seventh, they sure picked a great time to use some patented late-inning magic.
Erupting for four runs in both the seventh and eighth innings Friday, the Crushers rode the late wave to a 9-5 win over Windy City – their seventh straight at home – in front of a near-capacity crowd of 4,897 at All Pro Freight Stadium.
Only the 5,237 fans at the Frontier League All-Star Game last month constituted a larger crowd than Friday’s.
The Crushers (43-38) have also won nine of their last 10 at home and are 12-4 for the month.
“It’s always great to play in front of a home crowd, especially when they support you like our fans do,” said Kellen Kulbacki, whose leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh kick-started the eight-run outburst. “It gets you focused and it makes you really want to play hard for them. The fans are who you play for.
“We love their support, especially around here. The fans in this area are amazing fans – dedicated and loyal. And when you can get a big crowd in like tonight, it really makes you ready for a big game. You focus more and you want to put on a good show for them.”
The win was also the 150th in the Crushers’ three-year history. They are 150-122 all time.
“It means something to me since I’ve been here from the beginning,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “In fact, the whole (coaching) staff’s been here from the beginning. It’s an impressive mark to come in as a third year of this franchise and to win this many games over a 96-game season three years in a row.
“Hopefully, we can add two playoff appearances out of the three seasons.”
Massarelli said he senses a growing confidence among the team at home.
“We struggled here early, and over the course of the last six weeks our confidence as a ballclub has grown,” he said. “It’s grown on the road as well. But especially here at home, the guys feel very comfortable and very confident that if the game’s close late in the game, they’re gonna find a way to win.”
Following Jodam Rivera’s triple in the bottom of the third – his second of the game – the Crushers were held hitless by ThunderBolts starter Guido Fonseca (3-11) for three innings. Meanwhile, Windy City, thanks to two leadoff singles, put two across in the top of the fifth off Crushers starter Thomas Campbell to take a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh.
But on a 1-0 pitch, Kulbacki drilled a Fonseca offering just over the fence in right-center for his fifth home run of the season, tying the score at 2. It was his first home run since a three-run shot Aug. 6.
“I had a rough series against Traverse City, and I had gotten off to a rough start to this game,” Kulbacki said. “I was just up there just looking to drive something. I was trying to put a good swing on it and stay simple.
“I haven’t really felt comfortable in the box the last couple of games, but tonight, I really wanted to concentrate on hitting the ball hard. I’m glad it jump-started the team. Anytime that happens, it’s good. Things like that can be contagious, and that was the case tonight.”
Following a walk to Robby Kuzdale, Evan Sharpley drilled an RBI single to right to make it 3-1. Sharpley advanced to third on an errant throw from Windy City’s right fielder, putting a runner on third with still nobody out. That ended Fonseca’s night.
Chris Luick drilled Greg Johnson’s first pitch for a ground-rule double down the left-field line to make it 4-1, and Luick scored two batters later on an RBI single by Jereme Milons to make it 5-1.
“The guys root for each other, and they’ve really developed such a team chemistry,” Massarelli said. “Kellen struggled against Traverse City, and the guys know that. He knows that. He comes up with that big game-tying hit in the seventh inning in a big series, they’re happy for him and they’re happy for the ballclub.
“Things like that do shift the momentum. We were able to tack on three more after that and we were able to keep the momentum on our side.”
The ThunderBolts scored one off winning pitcher Chris Allen (2-2) to cut Lake Erie’s lead to 5-3 in the top of the eighth. But the Crushers erased any doubt in the bottom of the inning.
Windy City reliever Wes Alsup issued three consecutive walks to Jason Taylor, Kulbacki and Kuzdale and was subsequently relieved by Kurtis Frymier. After he struck out pinch-hitter Patrick Norris, he walked Luick on four straight pitches to force in a run.
One batter later, Milons drilled a 1-2 pitch into the gap in right-center for a bases-clearing double to make it a 9-3 lead.
“The key was just patience,” said Milons, who went 2-for-5 with four RBIs. “We faced (Fonseca) three weeks ago when he was with Rockford. He pitched a good game, but he made a couple of mistakes and we capitalized on them. That’s the story of the game.”
Sharpley went 2-for-3 with an RBI to help Lake Erie’s nine-hit attack.
Paul Fagan’s 12-strikeout performance Thursday night is a team record. Josh Roberts’ 10-strikeout performance last season was the previous standard.
• Andrew Davis’ 12-game hitting streak was snapped Friday night with an 0-for-4 performance.
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• WHO: Lake Erie vs. Windy City
• TIME: 7:05
• WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium, Avon
• PITCHERS: Gonzalez-Diaz (2-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Jernstad (5-9, 3.55)