Cutters win streak ends with a rough defeat

Chris Oliver wasn’t sharp at all, but he was battling, finding ways to get out of trouble early in the Williamsport Crosscutters’ game against Vermont on Friday night.

But then a fly ball was dropped. Then a two-out single scored a run and it was followed by a towering three-run home run.

All the battling Oliver, the Cutters’ starting pitcher, had done to see his way out of trouble was for naught. A full-count walk ended his night with only two outs recorded in the second inning.

The Phillies’ fourth-round pick in last month’s draft wasn’t the lone Williamsport pitcher to struggle, though, last night. Seven Crosscutters pitchers combined to allow a season high in runs in a 14-2 loss to Vermont.

The loss snapped Williamsport’s five-game winning streak and prevented it from sweeping its third series of the season.

“It’s how baseball works sometimes,” Cutters manager Shawn Williams said. “The little things don’t go your way. Just a miscue here, then a bloop there and it all breaks open.”

It was easily the worst-played game of the year for a team that is now 9-3 this month and has climbed back into the Pinckney Division race one-third of the way through the season. The Cutters had been the best team in the New York-Penn League in June with a .299 team batting average and a 2.18 staff ERA.

The Cutters made three errors defensively which led to six unearned runs on Oliver’s ledger for the day. There was also miscommunication on a pop fly to center field which allowed a ball to fall for a hit in the fourth inning. And one batter after that miscommunication, pitcher Preston Packrall and third baseman had miscommunication on a ground ball which led to Packrall throwing a ball away at first base.

“I was telling (pitching coach Aaron Fultz) on the bench, it happens,” Williams said with a shrug. “You’re going to have a couple of those a year. You don’t want to see it, but it happens.”

Oliver has yet to go more than three innings in his four starts as a professional (one was in the Gulf Coast League). The hard-throwing right-hander out of Arkansas consistently missed Friday night with his fastball running in to right-handed batters.

But despite the struggles with his command, it took a two-out RBI single to score a run off Oliver in the first inning. He was a pitch away from getting out of the second inning allowing only one run until Joe Bennie ripped a two-out RBI single to left on a 3-0 pitch. On the next pitch, Ryan Huck launched a three-run home run to left field.

Oliver lasted just 1 2/3 innings, allowing four hits and seven runs (one earned). He walked three and recorded just one strikeout. Just 29 of his 57 pitches (50.8 percent) were strikes, and he threw a first-pitch strike to just four of the 14 batters he faced.

“They’ve been working a little bit on getting him more consistent with his release point and arm slot,” Williams said. “He’s got great stuff and a good fastball. He’s got the stuff to be successful, it’s just a matter of being able to repeat your delivery.”

Packrall relieved Oliver and surrendered a two-run home run to left field on a 3-0 pitch to Max Kuhn, the first batter he faced. Vermont sent 10 batters to the plate in the second inning, scoring seven runs and taking an 8-0 lead.

The Lake Monsters scored in each of the first four innings, taking a 13-2 lead after four innings. Williamsport used a season-high seven pitchers, and combined, the seven pitchers threw first pitch strikes to just 24 of the 50 batters they faced.

Only Manny Martinez, Keivi Rojas and Christopher O’Hare recorded 1-2-3 innings for the Crosscutters.

“(Vermont) took advantage of some little things happening. They came out swinging the bats like they have been all year,” Williams said. “Those little things just snowball on you. It’s one of those night where everything goes their way. We’ll be back tomorrow ready for Tri-City.”

About the only positive for the Cutters was Robinson Torres’ two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the second inning. The spark plug of a second baseman was playing in just his ninth game of the year, but his double to drive in Wilson Garcia and Hernandez was his ninth hit of the season.

Williamsport collected just four other hits, and at one point went four consecutive innings without a hit.

“He brings energy to the field every day, and it doesn’t matter if he’s playing or not,” Williams said. “The guys feed off that. He’s done a great job on defense. He swings the bat. At the time, that was a big hit for us to get back into the game in the second inning. You never know what can happen from there.”