Cutters beat Lake Monsters to win 2nd straight series

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Williamsport Crosscutters starting pitcher Leonel Aponte delivers a pitch during a game against Vermont on Friday at Bowman Field.

Some 300 feet from home plate, Hunter Hearn set up behind the baseball along the right-field line. Vermont’s Marty Bechina wasn’t dissuaded from running toward the plate by Hearn’s outfield assist an inning prior.

He probably should have been.

You could have hung laundry on the frozen rope the Williamsport right fielder unleashed to the plate. Crosscutters catcher Juan Aparicio made a fantastic catch of a one-hop strike and dove back to the plate to tag out Bechina a foot before he got to the plate. The eruption of noise from the crowd of nearly 2,300 people at Bowman Field was the loudest roar of the season from a fan base which hasn’t had much to cheer about.

But Hearn throwing out runners at the plate in back-to-back innings Friday night was all the fuse that stick of dynamite needed. Hearn cut down two potential runs at the plate, Logan O’Hoppe hit his third home run of the season, Rudy Rott had an RBI double, and Omar Maldonado wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning to give Williamsport a 2-0 win over Vermont.

Williamsport won the final two games of the series to earn its second series win in a row after losing its first nine of the year. The Cutters have now also won four of its last five games.

“When there’s a guy in scoring position, I want the ball to be hit up in the air to me,” said Hearn, who leads the Cutters with six outfield assists “It’s something I’ve practiced my whole life. I like to be able to bring something to the team because right now my bat is kind of slow. I’m just thankful to get more opportunities out there and to help the team win somehow.”

Hearn was the only Cutter without a hit last night, but his two throws to the plate were as good as two solo home runs. The two throws allowed Williamsport to post its third shutout this season as both Carvajal and Maldonado escaped a jam.

In the seventh inning, Vermont’s Kevin Richard flipped a ball down the right-field line with two outs. Baserunner Jordan Diaz took a wide turn around third and Hearn fired a seed which hit Aparicio chest high and beat Diaz to the plate by five feet. An inning later, with Bechina on third base, Shane Selman hit a fly ball down the right-field line which traveled 308 feet according to the stadium’s TrackMan system. Hearn set up behind the ball, like cocking the firing pin on a Colt revolver, and was bringing all his momentum forward to unleash the throw which cut down Bechina at the plate.

Of Hearn’s six outfield assists, four have come from right field.

“That’s someone who has a really good arm and wants to show it off and throw people out,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “He knows he has a good arm and that’s why he’s so intelligent about the position because he knows he’s got a shot to throw people out.”

“The ball takes off out of his hand,” said Rott, who was in line to be the cutoff man on both throws. “I don’t think it matters if I’m there or not, he’s going to throw a hose right at the catcher.”

The two throws forced Vermont manager Aaron Nieckula to throw up an early stop sign to Michael Woodworth in the top of the ninth inning. Diaz singled to Hearn in right with one out and runners on first and second, and Nieckula didn’t take a chance after what he had seen the previous two innings. He had the stop sign up when Woodworth was still some 20 feet from the third-base bag.

Maldonado escaped the bases-loaded jam by striking out Lawrence Butler and then inducing a fly ball at left fielder D.J. Stewart.

“Baseball revolves around what you do at the plate, but you can’t let it effect what you do in the field,” Hearn said. “Every time that ball comes at you, it’s a new opportunity.”

Rott staked Williamsport to a 1-0 lead in the second inning when he collected his first extra-base hit as a professional. A ninth-round pick out of Ohio University, Rott was hitting just .138 in his previous nine games. But he took advantage of a 1-1 fastball from Vermont starter Richard Moreban, launching it 385 feet off the wall in right-center field to score O’Hoppe (2 for 4, RBI, 2 runs) from second base.

That was all the combination of Aponte, Carvajal and Maldonado needed. But the run-scoring swing from Rott was just as important for his own personal mentality as it was for the team on the scoreboard. The two time MAC Player of the Year put his best charge into the baseball on that one swing.

“I’ve been trying to stick with the process and grinding through some challenges, but it always feels good to connect with one like that and help the team get a big win,” Rott said. “I’ve been feeling a lot better in BP lately When I got here I was just a little off. But I’ve been working with (hitting coach Joel McKeithan) a lot and getting that result in a game helps a lot.”

O’Hoppe capped off a great series by launching a no-doubt-about-it home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth inning to give Williamsport a little cushion. He stayed back on a change-up from Jorge Martinez and launched it 398 feet with a 103.6 mph exit velocity for his second home of the series and third of the season.

O’Hoppe finished the series 5 for 8 with a double, two home runs and three runs scored.

“That’s another kid who is pretty strong and muscular and the harder he tries, the slower he gets and the more inconsistent he gets,” Borders said. “The more relaxed he gets, the more technically sound he’ll be.”