Surge fall short in home opener

Saranac Lake Surge shortstop Skylar Mercado tags out Explorers catcher Hector Rodriguez on a rundown that included Surge first baseman Brandon Camargo, pictured on the left. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Lake Surge’s much-anticipated home-opener provided some fun for the fans who gathered at the Petrova Avenue field on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the Surge couldn’t deliver a win as the Road City Explorers came through with a 10-6 victory in Empire Professional Baseball League action on a hot July 4 holiday afternoon.

After playing their first 12 games of the season on the road while posting a 3-8 record, the Surge looked to end a slide of six straight losses in front a crowd of more than 400 who came out for their inaugural matchup playing in Saranac Lake. But the Surge were never able to overcome a rocky top of the third inning defensively, a strong pitching effort by the Explorers’ Spencer Heredord, and tough outing at the plate as they dropped to 3-9 in the six-team league.

Both teams went scoreless during the first two innings, and the Explorers then heated up by scoring five times in the top of the third. The Surge answered with one run in the bottom of the inning to cut their deficit to 5-1, but they were never really able to put together any rallies the rest of the way after being held at bay by Heredord’s effort on the mound. The Explorers added single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, and tacked on two more in the top of the eighth to lead 10-1.

The Surge plated the final five runs of the game, scoring twice in the bottom of the eighth and getting their final runs in their last at-bat when Alexander LaFayette launched a three-run homer over the left field fence and into the football bleachers at Wilson Raymond Field. LaFayette’s blast was the only round-tripper of the day on a field featuring major league dimensions.

Saranac Lake’s Alexander LaFayette heads toward third base in the background while Surge catcher Tyler Hill makes his way home after LaFayette sent a three-run homer over the left field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning in Thursday’s game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Road City out hit Saranac Lake 10-7. Four of the Explorers hits came in during their five-run barrage in the third inning when they sent 10 batters to the plate.

“Our team is still improving,” Surge manager Ken Matsuzaka said. “We’re not there yet, but soon. It’s coming.”

At age 21, Hereford is one of the youngest players in the EPBL, and he performed masterfully and confidently against the Surge. The native of Michigan pitched his second-complete game victory of the season, striking out six batters and walking two in the process. Meanwhile, the Surge went through four pitchers, starting with Jeff Williams, who was replaced by Alexander Wynacht during the rocky top of the fifth. Wynacht gave up one more runs before getting the Surge out of the third, finished the fourth inning and Shoji Muraymana took over in the top of the sixth. Knuckleball pitcher Kyle Barnhill entered for the Surge in the eighth inning and finished out the game.

“He was really good,” Matsuzaka said of the opposing pitcher. “Our pitcher needs to pitch like him. We’ll see. The problem is we need to get some runs more, and we’re going about that after the game. We’re going to solve that.”

Hereford, who played collegiate ball in Southern California, said a phone call three or four days before the start of the EPBL season drew him to Puerto Rico, the home of the Explorers.

“I just returned from Los Angeles to Michigan and was looking to try out for the Frontier League,” Hereford said. “I woke up, got a phone call saying ‘How hungry are you to keep playing?’ I said I was starving. I sold my car, sold everything and got a plane ticket to Puerto Rico.

“I started off a bit shaky today, leaving a couple pitches over the middle. I gave up a couple hits,” he added. “After the fourth inning, I changed my mentality. It started working for me. I was getting a lot of late swings, some-roll over hits and things like that. After the first couple batters, I started feeling comfortable.”

Issac Dominguez and Christopher Carpio paced the Explorers with two hits each. LeoBaldo Cabrera also had a big blast for Road City, ripping a shot down the third base line on the play in the third inning that Surge fielder Daniel Dominguez was unable to handle. The shot came with bases loaded and turned into a three-run double that essentially broke the game open, putting Road City on top 5-0 at the time. Abraham Longa also finished with three RBIs for the winners.

Brandon Camargo, who lined up at first base, finished with two hits for the surge. LaFayette, Kyle Robinson, Skylar Mercado, Jose Negron and Stephen Octave each collected one hit for the Surge.

“These guys are grinding, playing some high level baseball and I expect nothing less,” Explorers manager Joey Molina said. “We hit the ball pretty good. We didn’t do so well on the bases. If we fix that, we’ll be fine. Just let our hitters hit. We had to make some adjustments because the guys were wanting to go for the long ball. They started making adjustments and started going for hits instead of the doubles and the home runs.

“We had to put on a show and play baseball,” Molina added. “We’re all here, it’s summer, having a good time, a beautiful facility, great fans, a great town. We’re all very happy to be here. The fans, the support. Not just for the Surge and us, but the whole league in general. It’s awesome.”

The Explorers improved to 6-5 with the victory.

The teams will square off again Friday at the Petrova Avenue diamond in a doubleheader starting at 11 a.m.