AVON — This time, it was close.
But just like in the Lake Erie Crushers’ previous two games against River City, the result was the same.
J.C. Figueroa’s RBI single in the bottom of the fourth gave the Crushers the lead and three relievers combined to toss five scoreless innings as Lake Erie downed the Rascals 3-2 for their fifth straight win in front of 2,531 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The Crushers were 7-1 winners over the Rascals on Wednesday and Thursday.
Since starting the season 7-14, the Crushers have gone 12-6 to put themselves just one game under .500. They’ve also won eight of their last 10 home games to improve their record at The Freight to 9-13.
The Rascals (22-17) had several opportunities to tie the game or take the lead Friday, however, it was the Crushers that seemed to catch most of the breaks.
“It looks like we caught River City at the right time,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said.
“We played well overall. We did not pitch well tonight, giving them several opportunities, but we got them to chase some balls with runners in scoring position.
“I don’t know how many runners (River City) left on base, but I bet it was a ton (10). It seemed like we were pitching out of jams all night long, but we’ll take it. If you get on a roll, these are the kinds of wins that you want, that you need to have to have. Sometimes, the other team will have more opportunities than you do, but you have to take advantage of your opportunities. That’s what happened tonight.”
The Rascals left 31 runners on base during the sweep, 20 in scoring position.
The Crushers took a 2-0 lead in the third on Jason Taylor’s one-out RBI single to left and an RBI sacrifice fly to right by Russell Moldenhauer. Taylor now has 11 RBIs over his last 10 games and extended his hitting streak to nine games.
Kellen Kulbacki started the fourth with a double off the left-field wall off Tony Marsala (2-3). Figueroa drilled the first pitch he saw back up the middle for a single, scoring Kulbacki with the tie-breaking run.
“I think this is a confident team, even when they were struggling,” Massarelli said. “You can tell they know they’re good. They believe they’re good. They just weren’t performing on the field. If you ask that team in, they believe they’re the best team in the league. They just didn’t show it on the field early on. Hopefully, they continue to improve and work hard and keep the positive things going through the grind portion of the season.”
From that point on, the Crushers squandered a few chances to add some insurance runs, even bunting into two double plays. However, the Rascals wasted even more chances.
“We bunted into two (bleeping) double plays tonight,” Massarelli said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that. It rarely happens once, let alone twice in the same game. I’m going to say I’ve never had that happen to me in 25 years of pro baseball. I’ve seen it happen individually, but never twice in one game. Hopefully, we’re done with those.”
Medina Highland graduate Ben Klafczynski (2-0), Randy Sturgill, Travis Risser and Jonathan Kountis (seventh save) held the Rascals at bay from the fifth inning on, even though the Rascals threatened in all but one of those innings.
River City loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth after Kountis relieved Risser and gave up a single and a walk. However, he got out of the jam by coaxing Ben Hewett to pop out to Taylor.
The Rascals had one last chance in the ninth when No. 9 hitter Eric Williams led off with a walk, stole second and took third on a sacrifice bunt from Curran Redal.
Chris Andreas, with the infield drawn in, followed with a pop fly down the left-field line. Davis, on a dead sprint, made a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch for the huge second out.
Kountis followed by striking out Gerardo Avila on four pitches to earn his seventh save and cement the team’s second home sweep of the season.
“It all starts with Coach Mazz,” said Kountis, an Akron native. “You look around the league and you see teams letting a lot of guys go, and he’s one of the few coaches who allows his players to get comfortable, find a groove and find themselves. He allows us to do that, and the guys feel comfortable.
“The chemistry is good. Our lineup flows and we’re stringing hits along, and our bullpen is comfortable in roles. The results are showing that.”
Recently-signed outfielder Daniel Bowman was 11th in the country in batting average this spring with Coastal Carolina, hitting .401 with six home runs. He was drafted in 2008 and 2011, but was completely passed over in this year’s MLB Draft.
• Adrian Ortiz had an infield single in his final at-bat to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. The previous team record was 14 games, shared by Kulbacki and Davis last season. The Frontier League record is 40 games set by Rockford’s Jason James in 2009.
• River City’s Doug Sanders didn’t report to the team until last week. He was a little busy helping coach Kent State, his alma mater, to the College World Series.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
• WHO: Lake Erie Crushers vs. Florence Freedom
• TIME: 6:05
• WHERE: Florence Freedom Ballpark, Florence, Ky.
• PITCHERS: Gonzalez-Diaz (2-4, 4.27 ERA) vs. Lewis (2-4, 3.00)