Cutters snap 18-inning scoreless streak in loss

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette The Williamsport Crosscutters’ Ben Aklinski is out at second as Mahoning Valley’s Tyler Freeman makes the throw to first base during a game on Thursday at Bowman Field.

Hosea Nelson slid across the left-field foul line with the baseball in his glove, giving no real care to Williamsport’s Ben Pelletier breaking from third base. The Mahoning Valley left fielder rose to his feet and made a courtesy throw to home, but there was no way he was going to get the Crosscutters baserunner.

That run in the bottom of the ninth inning at Bowman Field on Thursday night snapped an 18-inning scoreless streak for the Williamsport offense. It also prevented the Scrappers from throwing back-to-back shutouts for the first time in nearly five years. But it wasn’t enough for the Cutters as Mahoning Valley won the second of the three-game series, 4-1.

Williamsport outhit Mahoning Valley, 8-6, but were hitless with runners in scoring position for the second consecutive night. The Scrappers’ Tyler Freeman extended his hitting streak to 21 games with a first-inning single, matching the franchise record, and Henry Pujols hit a crucial two-run home run in the sixth inning which had the Cutters playing catch-up all game.

“We always give ourselves a chance,” Williamsport manager Pat Borders said. “They never give up. Some of these guys are really young, but they never roll over and give away at-bats.”

For the second consecutive night the Cutters ran into three quality Scrappers pitchers. Even though Williamsport had a hit in six of nine innings, Pelletier in the ninth inning was the only Williamsport baserunner to reach third base.

Starting pitcher Zach Draper threw five shutout innings, scattering six hits, striking out nine and not walking a batter. He utilized a plus change-up to get Cutters hitters off-balance and to set up a fastball which had some late life to it.

Francisco Lopez followed with a pair of shutout innings, surrendering just a one-out double to Brayan Gonzalez in the seventh inning. And Manuel Alvarez allowed just the ninth-inning sacrifice fly in closing out the game.

For the second consecutive night, Mahoning Valley ran out three pitchers all age 22 or older to face a Williamsport lineup which had five teenagers in it. That Williamsport lineup struck out at least 10 times for the second consecutive night.

The six pitchers Mahoning Valley has used in the series were 22, 24, 23, 23, 24 and 22-years-old and have combined for 18 seasons of minor league experience. Last night Williamsport struck out 11 times against Draper, Lopez and Alvarez after striking out 10 times the night before.

“I kind of look at it as the glass half full,” Borders said. “It can enhance their learning curve as they go to face pitchers like that.”

It was a group of pitchers which never really let Williamsport get into the game after Jose Fermin scored on a double play in the top of the first inning against Juan Escorcia. Williamsport went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded six runners on base. That came one night after going 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position and leaving four runners on base.

Clark Scolamiero made a tremendous running catch in right field with two outs last night to strand two Cutters on base in the second inning. Draper finished his outing with a strikeout and a tapper in front of the plate to leave two runners on base in the fifth. And Lopez picked up his only strikeout and a routine grounder to second to strand Gonzalez on second base in the seventh.

“Having good pitchers on the mound makes it more difficult to get those hits,” Borders said. “They bear down. Maybe that helps our guys have a better plan coming up to the plate knowing what they can do the next time they see someone who can locate the ball and mix pitches.”

It all overshadowed Escorcia’s strong return to starting. The hard-throwing right-hander threw six tremendous innings last night — his longest outing of the season — in his first start since June 25. Pushed to the bullpen by an influx of starting pitchers from the June MLB Draft, Escorcia picked up a start last night after a doubleheader in the last homestand forced Williamsport to use two starting pitchers in one day.

Escorcia struggled to find his command in the first inning, but settled in after rolling a 5-4-3 double play which allowed Fermin to score. At one point he retired 13 consecutive hitters between the first and fifth innings.

“I enjoy seeing a kid doing that when he gets the opportunity and then runs with it,” Borders said. “That first inning can be kind of stressful, not unlike the anxiety of certain situations during the game. But that’s what the minor leagues are all about, learning to channel that anxiety into arm speed, velocity, concentration or bat speed for hitters.”

Escorcia’s lone mistake was a hanging slider on a 1-2 pitch with two outs to Pujols in the top of the sixth inning. He had utilized his slider for four of his five strikeouts to that point and tried to get another, but instead hung the pitch in the middle of the plate.

Pujols’ fifth home run of the season gave Mahoning Valley a 3-0 lead and traveled an estimated 388 feet with a 103.1 mph exit velocity.

“I know the execution probably wasn’t to throw a strike with that pitch because (Pujols) is a free swinger,” Borders said. “But it spun out of his hand and it happens a lot of times with pitchers. The intention was right even if the execution wasn’t right.”