Cutters offense posts season-bests in hits and runs

The baseball hung in the air like it was strapped to a parachute. It seemed like there was no way it could possibly fall to the outfield grass at Bowman Field without someone catching it Wednesday night.

But Williamsport’s Brayan Gonzalez had hit the ball in a perfect spot. Tri-City right fielder Trey Dawson couldn’t run it down and neither could center fielder Alex McKenna.

With all three Crosscutters runners moving on the 3-2 pitch, they scored easily as Gonzalez coasted into second to cap a seven-run inning. Williamsport’s offense exploded in the wake of a much-needed off day for a season high 14 runs and 14 hits in a 14-6 win over the first-place ValleyCats.

All nine Williamsport starters reached base, and eight of them had a hit. But it was the damage done by Gonzalez, Jesus Henriquez and Keudy Bocio in the bottom third of the order which helped the Cutters get back on track after losing 11 of their last 14 games.

“Hitting-wise we’re pretty solid all the way through,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “Bocio got a little bit of a mental break going to the nine spot, but it’s equally as important to me as the leadoff spot because he can run and do some different things and we can give him an opportunity to bunt or look at a pitcher for an inning or two before he gets in there so he has an idea when he goes in instead of experimenting.”

Gonzalez, Henriquez and Bocio went a combined 7 for 13 last night, driving in six runs and scoring eight more. Not bad for a group which was hitting a collective .193 coming into Wednesday’s game.

Gonzalez had the biggest hit, that three-run double to cap a seven-run sixth inning. It gave Williamsport a 13-3 lead a half inning after Tri-City had cut its deficit to 6-3.

Henriquez had the most hits, posting a 4 for 5 night which raised his season batting average from .178 to .240. It’s the second time in his career he’s had a four-hit game, but his first one since June 20, 2016 when he was playing in the Dominican Summer League.

Two of Henriquez’s hits were bunt singles. And both times he reached the Tri-City defense managed to throw the ball down the right-field line. The first time came in the bottom of the second inning when the throwing error by catcher Cesar Salazar allowed Gonzalez to score all the way from first base. The second time came just two batters into the seven-run sixth inning when third baseman Michael Wielansky’s throw got past first base allowing Gonzalez again to score from first base.

“Henriquez has been working on it all year and he’s been getting better and better. I think he’s already got five bunt hits,” Borders said. “That puts pressure on a defense. It helps the team advance runners or pulls people in. It does multiple things to help you.”

Last night was, in general, a manifestation of what has made the Williamsport offense the second-best hitting team in the league. The Cutters posted a season-high 14 hits. They drove in seven runs with two outs. They were 8 for 19 with runners in scoring position upping the team average in the situation this year to .314.

On top of all that, Williamsport had six plate appearances in which it drove in a run in a two-strike count. Those six plate appearances drove in nine of the team’s 14 runs.

“They don’t quit. They don’t give up. They attack every at-bat the same,” Borders said. “That’s one of my pet peeves, don’t give away at-bats, they’re too valuable and hits are too hard to come by.”

The Cutters won despite getting just three innings from starting pitcher Jhordany Mezquita, who struggled to find the plate. The left-hander walked a career-high five batters and had the second-shortest outing of his career. Only his professional debut, which was two innings long last summer in the Gulf Coast League, was shorter.

Despite his struggles with the strike zone, Mezquita threw three scoreless innings and stranded five runners on base, four of which were in scoring position. Randy Alcantara pitched 2 1/3 innings and allowed just two hits to pick up his second win.

“We got some time on the mound for some arms that we need to do well,” Borders said. “Alcantara threw well, (Luis) Ramirez worked on some things and (Oscar) Marcelino did as well. It was good to get them out there and not worry about giving up too many runs and just work on game situations. It was huge.”