AVON — For the second straight day, the Lake Erie Crushers made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth Sunday.
Just like Saturday night, it was all for naught.
Four walks issued by Southern Illinois’ Albert Ayala scored one Lake Erie run and had the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position with two outs. But Anthony Collazo put out the fire by striking out Brian Erie on a 2-2 pitch, saving the Miners’ 5-4 victory in front of 2,815 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
The first half of the regular season ended with the Crushers at 25-23. The back-to-back losses to Southern Illinois put Lake Erie at 12-15 at The Freight after a 1-11 start.
“I’m excited about how good this team can be over these last 48 games,” Crushers manager John Massarelli said. “Especially with our younger guys. If they produce like they have over these last 10 games, it’s going to be a very fun second half.
“I think they believe in themselves. They’ve seen every team in the league and I don’t think they’re intimidated by any team in the league. They believe they can play with anyone and they’re tough to beat every night.”
It was a tale of two big innings Sunday.
First, the Crushers’ three-run sixth gave them a 3-1 lead. The Miners countered with a four-run eighth off starter Paul Fagan and reliever Travis Risser (2-2).
“This was kind of a tough loss to take because we had the opportunities and a good chance to win the series,” said Andrew Davis, who went 2-for-4 with a run to raise his average to .257. “We played a good series against a good team. That right there was pretty much a playoff series with playoff intensity. But you move past it and move on.
“The second half of the season, that’s when you want to win. It was a couple tough losses, but at the same time, we’re playing good and we feel confident going into the second part of the season.”
Back-to-back-to-back one-out singles from Daniel Bowman, Brian Erie and Brandon Decker — the final three hitters in the Crushers’ order — scored the Crushers’ first two runs, and Erie scored the third on a two-out wild pitch.
Those runs appeared to be more than enough for Fagan, a Frontier League All-Star selection. He was perfect through four and cruising through seven with a four-hitter.
But Fagan hit the leadoff man in the eighth, and then had a chopper tick off his glove and away from shortstop Davis for an infield single, ending his day.
Risser walked the next hitter to load the bases with nobody out, and the Miners promptly cleared them on a sacrifice fly and a two-run double for a 4-3 lead.
“The walk was probably the biggest factor in that inning,” Massarelli said. “We walked (Darian Sandford) who was trying to give himself up with a bunt. That’s probably what snowballed it from there.
“Sometimes, that’s the difference between winning and losing in professional baseball. If Fagan keeps his greedy hands off that grounder, it’s a routine double play for Davis, and Fagan gets the next out and probably gets a complete game. That’s baseball. Fagan reacts to it, it goes off his glove, and a big inning starts. One event leads to the other.”
Overall, Massarelli was pleased with how his team rebounded from a 7-14 start to put itself in prime position to be a factor in the playoff race.
“I’m really looking forward to the second half and seeing how this team continues to develop,” he said. “Hopefully, come that last third of the season, those last 33 games, we’ll be playing our best baseball and we can ride it out. I feel like the best is yet to come.”
- Russell Moldenhauer will represent the Crushers in the State Farm Home Run Derby, which will be held Tuesday night at The Corn Crib in Normal, Ill.
- The Crushers signed former Gateway Grizzlies pitcher Pat Arnold on Saturday. Arnold, who was a 15th-round draft choice by the Nationals in 2007, was 3-2 with a 5.14 ERA in seven starts this season with the Grizzlies, who released him Friday. To make room, rookie pitcher Brad Duffy was played on the seven-day disabled list.
- Massarelli’s starting rotation for the second half will be Trevor Longfellow (Friday), Fagan (Saturday), Eric Gonzalez-Diaz (Sunday), Arnold (Monday) and Alex Loftin (Tuesday).
- The Crushers won’t be home again until Thursday, July 19, when they host Evansville. Joe Tait will be a guest at that game, doing some commentary.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.