Carolina Mudcats take 3-1 win behind a Ryan Merritt gem
ZEBULON, N.C. – Despite a lackluster pitching effort and a tough loss on Friday, the Carolina Mudcats (2-1) and pitcher Ryan Merritt bounced back to secure a 3-1 win over the Potomac Nationals Saturday night.
In his first start of the season Ryan Merritt tossed a gem, pitching six scoreless innings, allowing three hits, one walk and two strikeouts.
“I’ve seen these guys and I’ve sat in the stands watching for two days before so I had an idea of how to throw,” Merritt said after the game. “I just went in calm and tried to execute all of my pitches with confidence.”
In a game where the Mudcats only managed three hits, opportunities for runs were scarce. Nevertheless, Carolina jumped out to an early lead for the third straight game by taking advantage of Potomac starting pitcher Brett Mooneyham and a series of walks in the second and third innings.
Carolina opened things up in the first as Mooneyham struggled with his control. After a leadoff walk to put Carolina’sTodd Hankins on first, Mooneyham hit centerfielder Logan Vick. A line drive single from the Mudcats’ Erik Gonzalezloaded the bases and gave Carolina a great opportunity to build an early lead. Anthony Gallas’ ground ball resulted in a six-four-three double play, but it allowed Todd Hankins to score from third giving the Mudcats a 1-0 lead.
After hitting Carolina’s James Roberts with a pitch in the second, Mooneyham walked two straight batters to load the bases which brought Nationals pitching coach, Franklin Bravo, out to the mound. The brief consultation failed to calm Mooneyham, who walked Logan Vick, forcing newly-added third baseman James Roberts home. An Erik Gonzalez strike out ended the inning, leaving three runners stranded and the score at 2-0 in favor of the Mudcats.
Two consecutive walks in the bottom of the third gave Carolina yet another chance to put runs on the board. Carolina’s Levon Washington was hit by a pitch to load the bases and put pressure on the Nationals.
With a total of six walks in less than three innings, Mooneyham was replaced by Dakota Bacus.
A shallow fly ball from James Roberts threatened to score Anthony Gallas from third but a solid catch and turn prevented him from bringing the run home. Right fielder Ollie Linton failed to capitalize as he went down swinging and left the bases loaded to end the inning.
Manager Scooter Tucker discussed leaving runners stranded and the importance of capitalizing on scoring opportunities after the game.
“It’s disappointing, no question,” Tucker said. “Our guys have got to look for something up in the zone to hit a fly ball. We just didn’t get it done. It’s certainly disappointing and it’s certainly something we will talk about.”
In the top of the fourth, Potomac’s Adrian Sanchez reached base on a fielder’s choice and followed it up by stealing second. With a runner in scoring position, National’s shortstop Stephen Perez drove a ball deep into the gap in left center forcing Logan Vick to make an incredible diving catch to prevent Sanchez from scoring.
Impressed with Vick’s catch, Tucker simply stated, “It was huge. No question.”
While trailing most of the game, the Nationals showed some fight in the top of the eighth inning. A leadoff double down the left-field line from Cole Leonida put a runner in scoring position. Potomac’s Tony Renda produced an RBI double to score Leonida and make it a 2-1 game. With the tying run on second, Mudcats’ reliever D.J. Brown managed to get out of the inning with a key strikeout of Brandon Miller.
With the game tightened, the Mudcats looked to add an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning. Carolina’sJeremy Lucas singled to lead off the inning with what was only the third hit of the game for the Mudcats. After a wild pick-off attempt at first, Lucas advanced and first baseman Charlie Valerio reached first on a walk putting runners at first and second. A pitch from Bacus got away from catcher Cole Leonida, advancing the runners. With runners in scoring position, James Roberts drove a ball deep to center and scored Jeremy Lucas with a sac fly to make the score 3-1.
In the final inning, the National’s continued to put runners in scoring position and threatened to force extra innings. A single from designated hitter Kevin Keyes and a walk of Will Piwnica-Worms put the tying run on base and the go-ahead run at the plate. With two outs and the crowd on its feet, Louis Head forced a Cole Leonida groundout to end the comeback attempt and give Carolina its second win of the season. Head was credited with his second save of the season.
Carolina’s James Roberts played a key roll, filling in for the injured Yandy Diaz.
“I was just trying to do my job to help the team out,” Roberts said after the game.
The Carolina Mudcats are scheduled to face off with the Potomac Nationals at 2 p.m. Sunday to complete their first series of the season. Carolina’s Cole Sulser is set to take on Pedro Encarnacion of the Nationals.
Daniel is a communication and broadcast media major at North Carolina State University.