AVON — The Lake Erie Crushers played like a team with its back against the wall.
The Crushers entered Thursday night’s game against the Joliet Slammers three games out of the last Frontier League playoff spot with four to play, then cruised to an 8-2 win at All Pro Freight Stadium.
Sean Hurley broke the game open with a two-run home run in the bottom of the second inning to give the Crushers (46-47) a 5-1 lead. Lake Erie added three runs in the bottom of the fifth, two on bases-loaded walks and a Max Casper sacrifice fly, to push the lead to 8-1.
The Slammers scored a run in the top of the sixth, but couldn’t get any closer.
“The biggest thing for us it to put good at-bats together,” Hurley said. “When we’re clicking and can put two or three at-bats together, especially in the early innings, and get a good lead, everyone gets comfortable and it makes a big difference.
“Our pitchers go out there nice and loose when we have the lead. It helps for the rest of the game.”
Stetson Nelson went 5 2/3 innings. He didn’t have his best stuff and was pulled after throwing 107 pitches.
He gave up six hits and walked five, but surrendered only two earned runs.
“I could tell in the first inning he didn’t have his best stuff,” Lake Erie manager Cameron Roth said. “He battled. Even though he wasn’t as sharp as he has been in his recent starts he only gave up two and put us in position to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Joliet (50-43) used five pitchers one night after clinching the Frontier League East Division championship. Starter Chris Rice lasted just three innings after surrendering four earned runs.
Joliet issued 11 walks.
The Crushers’ slim playoff hopes remained alive. Windy City fell to Florence 4-2, meaning the Crushers gained a full game on the Rascals and are two games behind.
They lead Washington, a 2-0 loser to Windy City, by a half-game. The Wild Things and Crushers meet for a three-game series this weekend at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“One game at a time,” Roth said. “We’re a young team that really is going through this for the first time. We have nothing to lose because no one expected us to be in this position.
“I’ve been a part of two Frontier League championship teams, and down the stretch you would hear ‘don’t press, don’t press’ almost every day. I haven’t heard that one time here. I haven’t said it or haven’t heard it.
“These guys are dirt bags. They’re going to go out and play hard every day. I don’t have to say anything to motivate them or encourage them.”
Lake Erie catcher Bryan De La Rosa reached base in his 16th consecutive game when he walked to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. He drove in a run in the fifth when he walked with the bases loaded.
“When Bryan came here everyone knew about his defense,” Roth said. “He’s worked with the coaches on his patience and his approach at the plate. His defense is always going to be there, but he really worked hard on improving his hitting this season … and it’s paid off.”
Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.