AVON — With just two wins in their last seven games coming into Tuesday night, the Lake Erie Crushers were looking for something — anything — to give them a spark.
A three-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth and a quality start from Dave Middendorf qualified as the Crushers defeated the Normal CornBelters 4-3 in front of 1,678 fans at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“We saw a little opening in that door, and we ended up pouncing on it,” Crushers manager Jeff Isom said of the sixth-inning rally. “Our guys went up there and attacked and that was very good to see. To do all that damage with two outs and nobody on off a pitcher like that, I was impressed.
“I’ve said all along that we’ve got a great offense, from top to bottom, and we’ve been swinging the bats really well over the last five games. The guys feed off each other and you saw that there in the bottom of the sixth.”
While it wasn’t without some late-inning drama, courtesy of a rare inside-the-park home run in the top of the ninth, the Crushers finally won back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game streak June 6-8.
The Crushers improved to 12-16, 6-6 at The Freight, while the CornBelters — who are second in the Frontier League’s West Division — fell to 17-11.
It’s the first time Lake Erie has won a series opener in two weeks.
The Crushers trailed 1-0 in the sixth and things didn’t look promising after Ryan Demmin (2-2) retired the first two hitters. But Daniel Bowman drew a walk, stole second and scored on Russ Moldenhauer’s RBI single to tie the game.
And that, as they say, was just the tip of the iceberg.
“It was a great pitchers duel tonight until we broke things open in the sixth inning,” Isom said.
Emmanuel Quiles followed with a double to left-center. Isom sent Moldenhauer home, but the throw from third baseman T.J. Gavlik had Moldenhauer dead to rights. However, catcher Jenzen Torres dropped the ball and Moldenhauer scored to give the Crushers a 2-1 lead.
“He had him by at least 5 feet,” Isom said. “We’ll take it. Those breaks have been going against us most of this season, so it’s nice to get some of those breaks going our way now.”
Quiles took third on the throw to the plate and scored after Ricardo Lizcano beat out an infield single down the third-base line to make it 3-1.
The Crushers had four straight hits and five consecutive baserunners with two outs.
Middendorf (4-2), who scattered five hits and had five strikeouts in eight innings, gave up a leadoff home run to Patrick McKenna — who had two on the night — in the seventh, but the Crushers answered with a run in their half of the inning.
Max Casper and Anderson Hidalgo led off with a single and a double, and Andrew Davis extended his league-best hitting streak to 18 with a single to left, scoring Casper to make it 4-2 and ending Demmin’s night.
In the ninth, McKenna led off by drilling a ball to dead center off closer Dale Dickerson that Kevin Berard lost in the lights. It sailed over Berard’s head and rolled to the wall, turning into an inside-the-park home run to cut the Crushers’ lead to 4-3.
“It’s that time of night where you can’t see anything,” Isom said. “The ball goes up and he had no idea where it was. But once it landed, he’s got to get after that baseball. I’m not happy about that.
“He’s got to put his offensive struggles behind him. He’s been pressing a bit at the plate, but you can’t let your offense effect you on defense. You can go through a slump at the plate, but you can never go through a slump on the defensive side or on the hustle side. You don’t slump in those areas. We’ve just got to stay focused.”
- WHO: Lake Erie vs. Normal (Ill.)
- TIME: 7:05
- WHERE: All Pro Freight Stadium
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.