A little more than an hour before first pitch Sunday evening at Bowman Field, Zach Kirksey wasn't even a part of Connecticut's starting lineup. But by the end of the middle game of a three-game series in Williamsport, the Tigers' designated hitter had a profound impact.
Kirksey hit a pair of home runs filling in for Devon Travis and Connecticut won, 9-3. The Tigers tagged Crosscutters starting pitcher Josh Warner for 11 hits and eight runs in 5 1/3 innings to win their second consecutive game of the series.
"I thought that guy had a good pass. Very strong, a low-ball hitter," Crosscutters manager Andy Tracy said. "He got his barrel to the ball and put good passes on the ball with solid contact."
Kirksey's first home run was a killer. It was a two-run shot with two outs in the first inning when it appeared Warner was going to be able to wiggle out of the inning allowing just one run.
But Kirksey got a 1-0 pitch up into the wind that was gusting out to right field and watched the ball hit the top of the scoreboard to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. He hit his second home run in the sixth inning leading off against Warner. He got an 0-1 pitch again up into the wind and it carried just over the wall for a solo home run.
"I think I've seen three home runs here before this series, and we have three (Friday) and two more (Sunday). I don't know what it is," Williamsport's Kevin Quaranto said. "Maybe it's the weather. It's one of those things where that happens and it's part of the game."
Kirksey's two-out home run continued a rash of two-out runs the Crosscutters pitching staff has surrendered this year. Three of the first four runs given up by Warner came with two outs last night.
Of the 270 runs the Cutters' pitching staff has surrendered this year, 92 (34 percent) have come with two outs. Four of the Tigers' nine runs yesterday were scored with two outs.
"Sometimes guys lose focus after two quick outs. We've had that a lot," Tracy said. "It happens at the upper levels, too, where you get two outs on five pitches and all of a sudden go 2-0 on the next hitter and then you have to groove a heater or you walk a guy. Then all of a sudden a double and a single and it's two runs. It seems to happens to us frequently."
While Connecticut kept tacking on to its 3-0, first-inning lead, the Williamsport offense struggled to get anything going. After Cameron Perkins reached on an error in the bottom of the first inning, the Cutters didn't get another baserunner until Perkins singled to lead off the seventh inning.
Connecticut starting pitcher Endrys Briceno carried a shutout into the seventh inning. He ran Williamsport's scoreless streak to 15 1/3 innings following nine consecutive scoreless innings from the Tigers' bullpen in Saturday's 15-inning game.
Williamsport finally got to the 6-foot-4 right-hander in the seventh when Perkins led off with a single to left field and Quaranto and Larry Greene Jr. each reached on infield singles.
Yan Carlos Olmo ended the scoreless streak with an RBI fielder's choice to knock Briceno out of the game. Logan Moore followed with an RBI single off of Eric Heckaman and Gustavo Gonzalez followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the Cutters' deficit to 8-3, but it was all the closer Williamsport got.
"We couldn't get anything going, and only having one hit there for a while was a little frustrating," said Quaranto, who pinch-hit for Chris Serritella in the seventh and reached base twice. "Toward the end we showed the offense can put it together. We have to start clicking sooner in the game."
Even though Briceno retired 17 batters in a row from the first through sixth innings, he had two strikeouts in that span. He got seven ground-ball outs in that span.
"We saw a pitcher with good stuff who was down in the zone and pounded with his fastball," Tracy said. "He wasn't walking anybody and he didn't make any mistakes up in the zone. He challenged us with probably a pretty good sinker."
The Cutters have a chance to break even on their six-game homestand in tonight's season finale against Connecticut at Bowman Field. It'll be the last time Williamsport plays at home until Aug. 15 against Batavia.