Surge blank league leaders
SARANAC LAKE — At least on Tuesday, the Saranac Lake Surge was a better team than the one leading the Empire Professional Baseball League.
After being swept on by the Plattsburgh Thunderbirds in a five-game series early in the season, Saranac Lake won the opener in their second set of games with a 7-0 victory on home turf at the Petrova Avenue field. The Surge held a 2-0 lead in a tight game early and then pulled away by scoring four more times in the bottom of the sixth.
The Surge tacked on one more run in the bottom of the eighth and kept the Thunderbirds off the scoreboard in their last at-bat to claim a big win in a tight playoff race. Saranac Lake improved to 13-14 and remained deadlocked in the standings with the Road City Explorers, who also won Tuesday, beating the New York Bucks 17-10 during a slugfest at Lefty Wilson Field in Plattsburgh.
Both teams are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in the six-team Empire League.
Ace Ricky Schafer had a big day on the mound for the Surge, giving up just three hits in seven innings of work to earn his league-leading fifth win of the season. The 26-year-old Californian fanned seven Thunderbirds to up his season strikeout total to 41, which is also tops in the EPBL. Outfielder Kyle Robinson came in to pitch the eighth and struck out two, and Dino Catti finished the job in the ninth.
Saranac Lake outhit Plattsburgh 10-3, and also took advantage of miscues by the Thunderbirds, who committed three errors and allowed three Surge runs to be scored on wild pitches.
“We gave up zero runs today, so I would say that is a good game,” Surge manager Ken Matsuzaka said. “We took chances and scored, and our pitchers were good.”
First baseman Alexander LaFayette scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the second. He reached base on an error, eventually got to third on Tyler Hill’s sacrifice fly to center and then crossed the plate on a wild pitch. The Surge upped the lead to 2-0 in their next at-bat when Daniel Dominguez rapped a double with two outs and scored on an error.
The teams played scoreless baseball in the fourth and fifth innings, and the Surge defense came up with the play of the game with Plattsburgh batting in the top of the sixth. Jordan Holloman Scott, the EPBL’s top hitter with a .444 average, led off the inning with a deep shot to center. After rounding second base, Holloman attempted to stretch the hit into a triple but was gunned down after right fielder Hiroki Itakura hit cut off man Taran Tani, who then fired a perfect strike to third base where Dominguez laid on the tag for the out.
Schafer gave up one more hit in the inning on a single by Taylor Olmstead, but the Surge ultimately escaped the sixth without allowing a run.
Holding on to their 2-0 lead, the Surge piled on four runs in the bottom of the frame to take control of the game. Saranac Lake had three hits in the frame, a pair of singles by LaFayette and Jose Negron and an RBI double by Jason Aponte, who came in as a timely pinch hitter.
“That was a big momentum change right there,” Dominguez said, describing the tag out of Holloman Scott at third base. “It was a good hit, but luckily we had a great relay to Taran and he was able to get it to me quick enough to get him out. He stumbled a bit rounding second, so it gave us a little more to get him out. That was huge, because the next batter got a single up the middle and it would have been a run. That kind of slowed down their momentum, and from there we just put it on them and didn’t stop.”
The Surge rounded out the scoring in the eighth, with Tani reaching base on a single and later crossing the plate on the Thunderbirds third run scoring wild pitch of the game.
Zach Quinn started on the mound for Plattsburgh and lasted five and two-thirds innings. He allowed eight hits, four earned runs, walked three and struck out five.
Holloman Scott, Olmstead and Simon Palenchar accounted for Plattsburgh’s three hits.
Tani and Itakura finished with two hits each to lead the Surge.
The Thunderbirds dropped to 15-6 with the loss, but still hold the top spot in both the North Country Division and the EPBL overall standings.
Plattsburgh manager Jerry Rodriguez said the rocky start did not bode well for his team, and he also gave kudos to Schafer for his pitching performance and the Surge for their defense.
“We started off with some mistakes,” Rodriguez said. “It’s never good when you start off the game with an error, advance the guy to second, he gets to third on a fly ball and then scores on a passed ball. But we can’t take anything away from the Surge, they did a fantastic job.
“Ricky Schafer on the mound, he was lights out today. We couldn’t get the ball on the ground or on a line. We popped up probably over 12 times. He’s a phenomenal pitcher and he did a fantastic job throwing the baseball today and just flat out beat us.”
Tuesday’s matchup was the first in series at Petrova Avenue that runs through Sunday. The Thunderbirds will start the top pitcher, Cas Sibler, Wednesday in the second game of the series, which is slated to start at 1 p.m.
“It’s a six-game series, and tomorrow we have out ace Cas Sibler going for us,” Rodriguez said. “You’re going to win and you’re going to lose and it’s all about how you do it. Today we didn’t lose the way we wanted to to lose, but that’s why baseball is an amazing sport. Tomorrow we get to come back and do it again.
“We’re in first place and we’re doing well. A lot of the guys are gelling, we’re a team together,” Rodriguez continued. “We lost a couple of guys moving them up to higher leagues, and that’s what the league is about. I don’t have a problem about that. We just have to adjust and find other guys to replace them and just keep playing, keep grinding. Our pitchers are there, everybody is together, it’s just a matter of continuing to play ball.”
The win was the third in the past four starts for the Surge, who hope to play well the rest of the way with eight games remaining on their regular-season schedule, all of which will be played at home. Dominguez and Matsuzaka both like their team’s chances in the stretch run.
“We’re definitely progressing every game,” Dominguez said. “Hitters are having better at-bats, feeding off each other. As long as we’re sticking together, we’re going to just keep getting better and better and make that playoff run push and hopefully win a championship.”
“Right now, our team is moving very good; a lot of energy, guys are doing their job, so now we’re working as a team pushing for playoffs,” Matsuzaka added. “They (the Thunderbirds) are supposed to be the best team in the league. We beat them today and we need to beat them more. Hopefully we’ll sweep them. We’ll try.”