TROY — It was a pitchers’ duel the whole way, but the ValleyCats faltered late and it resulted in an extra innings loss to Lowell in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday at Joe Bruno Stadium, 2-1.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning as both offenses struggled to get anything going. With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Austin Dennis doubled to left field and two batters later Michael Wielansky came up with the first big hit of the night, singling with two outs to drive in Dennis for the go-ahead run.
Lowell tied the game in the top of the seventh inning, as Tyler Dearden singled, then Dylan Hardy came through with another single with the Spinners down to its final out to tie the game at one, and the game was sent to extra innings.
In the top of the eighth inning, with a runner beginning the frame on second base per minor league baseball rules, Lowell’s Jonathan Ortega bunted the runner over and two batters later Korby Batesole singled in runner Alberto Schmidt to give Lowell the 2-1 lead. The ValleyCats failed to bring home runner Ramiro Rodriguez with two failed bunt attempts and a flyout, ending a heartbreaking loss. The first and third outs of the inning came on bunts. The first one from Wielansky was popped up, and Andy Pineda’s was a roller back to the pitcher to end the game.
“People take for granted how hard bunting really is,” ValleyCats manager Jason Bell said. “I think that we’ve had some pretty good bunts this year but it’s still not that easy, so that was a tough situation.”
However, despite the loss, the ValleyCats’ pitching was dominant through the first six innings, allowing just two hits during that time. Mark Moclair got the start for Tri-City and shut down the Spinners in the first three frames and exited in the fourth inning in favor of Carlos Hiraldo. Moclair did not give up a hit in those three innings and struck out six, including five in a row during a stretch. In the eight innings total, the ValleyCats’ pitching staff, including Tim Hardy, who tossed the eighth inning, recorded 15 strikeouts.
“It’s just the result of working on our stuff between our outings, really just focusing on improving every day. That’s kind of the end result of the work we as a staff put in, so it was nice to have the stuff working,” Moclair said.
Hiraldo tossed a hitless fourth before surrendering the first Lowell hit of the night, a one-out line drive single to Trey Ganns that ricocheted off of third baseman Enmanuel Valdez’s glove and into the outfield.
Before the ValleyCats scored their first run of the game, they did have plenty of chances, most notably when Valdez doubled to lead off the fourth inning, but was picked off at second base later in the frame. Overall, the ValleyCats had only four hits on the night in addition to a walk, making it tough for them to score many runs.
“It was tough. We haven’t been good hitting with runners in scoring position,” Bell said. “It stings, is maybe the best way to describe it, because we were so close.”
The ValleyCats improve to 26-21 on the year following the doubleheader split after winning 6-3 in the first game of the night, 1.5 games ahead of Lowell in the Stedler Division, who are now 25-23. The ValleyCats now travel to take on the Connecticut Tigers starting Sunday afternoon, and return home on Wednesday for three games against the Hudson Valley Renegades.