Crosscutters struggle against Auburn, fall two games out of 1st

The Auburn Doubledays’ Jonathan Pryor races back to first base before first baseman Greg Pickett fields the throw during Sunday’s game at Bowman Field. (KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette)

Turning away from home plate, Greg Pickett couldn’t hide his frustration. His bat felt the wrath of his frustration, snapping in half, the barrel hanging precariously from the handle as he walked to the Williamsport Crosscutters’ dugout.

Two pitches earlier he watched a potential game-tying home run fly some 400-plus feet from home plate at Bowman Field, only to curve foul as it reached the wall. Pickett’s nine-pitch at-bat against Auburn’s Jeremy McKinney ended with a strikeout.

It was a microcosm for Williamsport on a day where nothing seemed to go right. Only Malvin Matos’ solo home run in the bottom of the seventh inning seemed to go right. Otherwise, Julian Garcia struggled with his command and surrendered four runs in six innings, and manager Pat Borders was ejected for arguing a balk.

Auburn took the second game of the three-game series, 6-1. With the loss, Williamsport fell two games behind Mahoning Valley in the Pinckney Division, and 1 1/2 games behind Aberdeen, West Virginia and Staten Island in the race for the Wild Card.

“I think in the past week we’ve had a couple days where no matter what happened, it wasn’t going to work for us,” Borders said. “Everything the other team did was right and everything we did was wrong. That’s just how it works sometimes.”

The trouble started with Garcia, who was coming off his best career start where he didn’t allow a hit and struck out 11 in five innings. But that wasn’t the case yesterday for the right-hander out of Metro State. Garcia struggled to command his fastball, and although he didn’t walk a batter in his six innings, he fell behind hitters and have up some hard-hit baseballs.

Auburn touched him up for a run in the first inning with three consecutive one-out singles. The Doubledays added another run with back-to-back doubles off the wall in the second inning.

An error in the fifth inning led to an unearned run for Auburn, and the balk which led to Borders’ ejection in the sixth helped the Doubledays score their final run off Garcia. At every turn, Garcia was able to minimize damage, but it was still enough damage to put Auburn in control with a 4-0 lead.

“It wasn’t a good day for him as far as what he did. But to pluck out a good point, he did have some at-bats in the middle innings where he did execute some breaking balls,” Borders said. “He did not have location with the fastball, but it looked like he was able to throw the breaking ball for a strike, and a couple change-ups. I thought that was a building point for him even though his fastball wasn’t working for him.”

Garcia gave up a leadoff bunt single in the top of the sixth inning, but appeared to erase the threat when he stepped off the rubber, catching Auburn’s Armond Upshaw in a rundown where shortstop Nick Maton eventually tagged him out. But as Maton applied the tag, home plate umpire Chad Dixon signaled a balk on the play.

Garcia argued with base umpire Roberto Pattison, going as far as to point on the mound where he stepped off the pitching rubber. It brought Borders out of the dugout where his argument began calmly until Dixon ejected him from the game. Then Borders got face-to-face with Dixon.

As Dixon tried to walk away, Borders followed him, kicking dirt over homeplate to the cheers of a crowd of more than 1,600 who were less than pleased with Dixon’s strike zone. Borders followed Dixon up the third-base line before eventually retreating to the dugout to handoff the lineup card to hitting coach Tyler Henson. After Borders returned to the clubhouse, Dixon refused the remove the dirt which was kicked on the plate. Cutters catcher Rodolfo Duran had to lean forward and clear off the plate before play could resume.

“It was the wrong call. I had to explain to him what it was,” Borders said. “It was a designed step-off and (Upshaw) happened to go at the right time. It’s what it’s designed to do.”

Four Auburn pitchers combined to scatter eight hits against the Cutters’ offense. A night after going 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, Williamsport was just 1 for 6 on Sunday in the same situation. The lone hit was a Jhailyn Ortiz single in the bottom of the sixth inning which moved Pickett from second to third.

Williamsport left at least one baserunner stranded in six innings. In four of those innings, a runner was stranded in scoring position.

“I think we just need to keep doing what we’re doing,” Pickett said. “We’re hitting the ball well, just not at the right time.”

The Cutters rallied in the seventh, picking up the one-out homer from Matos, his second of the season. Jake Scheiner and Adam Haseley each picked up two-out hits to put runners on second and third later in the inning. That’s when Pickett came to the plate as the potential tying run in a 4-1 game.

Pickett got a pitch he could drive and absolutely crushed it to right field. But he barely trotted down the first-base line, knowing it was eventually going to hook foul. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Pickett swung over a pitch and struck out. He broke his bat slamming it into the ground as he walked away from the plate.

Williamsport never got close to bringing the tying run to the plate again.

“I was seeing the ball pretty well that at-bat and I just missed a few pitches,” Pickett said. “I hit a ball hard, it was just foul. It’s frustrating because I had two of those today. It seems like I’ve had several of them the past few games. I hit it hard, it just seems to go foul.”