AVON — The Crushers bats couldn’t get going against Evansville’s Jake Welch on Sunday afternoon.
The Otters starter limited Lake Erie to three hits in eight innings, striking out eight as the Crushers lost the series rubber match 3-2 at Sprenger Stadium.
Lake Erie drops to 18-18 and 2 1⁄2 games behind Schaumburg for first in the Frontier League’s East Division. Evansville is 22-16, but is third in the West and three games ahead of the Crushers for the second wild card.
“He had good stuff today,” Lake Erie shortstop Emmanuel Marrero said of Welch after getting two of the Crushers’ three hits off him. “We hit some balls good, but at the right people. He pitched very good. We’ll keep fighting and start winning. We just need to get good at-bats.”
Lake Erie initially caught a break in the third inning when David Cronin’s shot to left bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double.
Mike Rizzitello took off before the pitch and was rounding third when the ball hit the warning track, but the umpire sent him back to third.
Ryan Long rectified things two batters later with a short fly ball into center that scored both runners.
Evansville added to its lead in the fifth when Cronin sent a shot through the left-center gap to score J.J. Gould.
Crushers center fielder James Davison made a good throw to the plate, but catcher Karl Ellison couldn’t turn around in time to apply the tag on Gould, who scored from first base.
“We have to do a better job of protecting the plate,” Lake Erie manager Cam Roth said. “You’re told when you’re 9 years old, when you have two strikes, protect the plate. They go white line to white line. You got to swing and you got to foul it off. That’s what their guys did very well. We did not do that very well.”
All three of Lake Erie’s hits came in the first five innings. Marrero broke a string of five straight Crushers retired with a leadoff double in the fifth for his second hit.
Aaron Hill then reached second on a routine fly ball that hit off of Rizzitello’s glove. John Cable sacrificed Marrero home and moved Hill to third. Hill later scored when Ellison grounded into a fielder’s choice.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit, made a good swing and that’s it,” Marrero said. “I don’t think too much, I just look for good pitches to hit.”
Evansville combined to retire 15 of the next 16 batters. Dale Burdick was the only other Crushers baserunner, reaching in the seventh when he was hit by a wild pitch from Welch. Burdick advanced to third thanks to a stolen base and a groundout, but Welch’s two strikeouts prevented the Crushers from tying the game.
Lake Erie was trying to bounce back after losing 7-3 to Evansville on Saturday. The Crushers took the opening game of the series.
“We cannot get complacent at any time during the season whatsoever,” Roth said. “We are not that club and I don’t think there’s a club in this league who can do that either. We especially cannot because when we make the little mistakes or take a game off, it’s like a hangover.”