Connecticut's Michael Gerber homered off former Creighton teammate Bryan Sova in the top of the 13th inning on Thursday to give the Tigers a 6-5 win over Williamsport, and a doubleheader sweep of the Crosscutters at Bowman Field.
The Tigers came within two outs of a perfect game in the opener before winning, 5-0.
The Cutters had pitched nine consecutive scoreless innings, seven of it from the bullpen, in the nightcap of yesterday's doubleheader before Sova allowed a leadoff double to Ross Kivett, and Gerber's towering two-run home run in the top of the 13th. It was the second time in the last week Sova has surrendered the lead in an extra-inning game. He allowed four runs, just one earned, in the 10th inning of Saturday's loss to Mahoning Valley, a game in which Cutters pitching didn't allow a hit for the first nine innings.
The doubleheader sweep put Williamsport even further back in the race for the New York-Penn League's Wild Card spot. Connecticut, who was only 1/2-game behind Brooklyn for the wild card lead at the start of the night, ended the night one game in front of the Cyclones, and three games in front of a Williamsport team which fell to 22-25.
Williamsport rallied from a four-run deficit to tie the first game on a perfectly executed safety squeeze by Robinson Torres in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Crosscutters even had two runners on base after Torres' bunt with just one out. But they were unable to capitalize as Tigers reliever Joe Jimenez, who strikes out 12 batters per nine innings, got a pair of strikeouts to end the sixth inning.
Jimenez then struck out all three batters he faced in the seventh, challenging the second, third and fourth batters in the lineup with a hard fastball and a hard-biting breaking ball. Cutters third baseman Jan Hernandez finally got to Connecticut pitching in the eighth inning with a single, but he was stranded at second base.
Williamsport trailed 4-0 just three innings into the game, thanks primarily to Connecticut's Ross Kivett who drove in all four runs with a two-run home run in the first inning off starter Alejandro Arteaga, and a two-run double in the third inning.
The Cutters got back into the game when Cord Sandberg flipped a two-run single into center field in the third inning to cut the deficit to 4-2. Last night was just the second time since June 20 that Sandberg has had multiple RBIs in a game.
Aaron Brown cut the deficit down even further when he singled on a two-out, two-strike pitch in the fifth inning to drive home Sandberg and make it 4-3. Wilson Garcia (2 for 3, 2 doubles) got the sixth-inning rally started for the Cutters when he led off the inning with a double. He was moved to third on a bunt before Sean McHugh worked back from a 1-2 count to earn a walk.
Torres then bunted the first pitch he saw from Jimenez perfectly to score pinch-runner Derek Campbell. It was just the fifth RBI of the year for Torres.
There was no similar rally in the opener. The Cutters were held to a season-low one hit, and didn't get that hit until there was already one out in the seventh inning.
But Connecticut didn't just carry a no-hitter into that seventh inning, two Tigers pitchers had combined to not allow a baserunner through the first six innings. Paul Voelker extended that run to 6 1/3 innings by getting Cord Sandberg to lead off the inning with a fly ball in foul territory down the left field line, which was run down by Rashad Brown by the Tigers' bullpen.
Voelker, who carried a 1.35 WHIP into the game, then allowed a one-out triple to Jiandido Tromp to the right-center field gap for the Cutters' first baserunner of the game. Tromp's drive was well hit, but with a gusting wind shifting from blowing out to center field to blowing out to right field, it was more than enough to push the baseball out of the reach of Connecticut centerfielder Ross Kivett.
It was the fifth time this year Williamsport has been shut out, and the third time in the last six games in which it failed to score a run. The Cutters were shutout in the back end of a doubleheader on Monday at Batavia, losing 1-0 on a walk-off home run. They were also shut out in the series finale against Mahoning Valley last week at Bowman Field.
The Tigers took advantage of Cutters starting pitcher Feliberto Sanchez struggling to get the ball down in the zone in the opener. Three consecutive hits, including doubles from Steven Fuentes and Jacob Kapstein, led to the first run. With the infield back, Brown hit a roller to second base which was misplayed by Derek Campbell, allowing the second run to score. Garrett Mattlage then grounded into a double play scoring the third run and giving Connecticut a lead it never relinquished.
The lead was more than enough for Connecticut starter Spencer Turnbull and reliever Josh Laxer to handle. Turnbull, a second-round pick out of Alabama who threw fewer than 30 pitches in his three innings yesterday, didn't allow a baserunner. He recorded five groundball outs and just one strikeout. He faced just one three-ball count in his three innings.
Laxer was equally as impressive, recording four groundball outs and inducing three can-of-corn fly balls. In their combined six innings, Turnbull and Laxer threw just 57 pitches.
Even though Voelker surrendered the hit which ended the perfect game and no-hitter, he managed to strand Tromp at third base after the one-out triple by getting back-to-back strikeouts of Aaron Brown and Rhys Hoskins to end the seventh inning. His 16-pitch inning was the only inning in the opener in which Tigers pitchers threw more than 11 pitches.
Connecticut has never had a no-hitter since joining the New York-Penn League. And the NYPL hasn't had a perfect game Guillermo Moscoso threw one for the Oneonta Tigers in 2007.
The Tigers added a run in the fifth when Fuentes homered to right-center. Fuentes wasn't originally in the lineup, but was added about 45 minutes prior to first pitch. He finished the game 2 for 2 with a double, home run and a walk. He scored two runs.