Things may have looked bleak entering the bottom of the eighth for the Florence Y’alls.
The Frontier League’s West Division leading Evansville Otters (21-12 overall) led 5-1 behind the arm of Parker Brahms (3-1). Brahms had been throwing darts striking out a season-high 13 batters. In addition, Y’alls Manager Brian White and infield coach Taylor Bryant had been ejected after the end of the seventh.
But Florence (14-18) responded the right way. The Y’alls scored four times in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game then won it in the bottom of the ninth with two out by a 6-5 score in front of a crowd of 2,067.
The win lifts Florence out of the West Division basement one full game in front of the Lake Erie (Ohio) Crushers (14-20) and leaves Evansville in second behind the Washington (Pennsylvania) Wild Things (22-12) by half a game. Florence has won seven of its last eight after going 4-11 in May. The Y’alls held a 7-17 record before going on this run.
“It was awesome,” White said. “We preach that it’s first pitch to last pitch so with that being said, it’s never over until it’s over. The guys have bought into that philosophy. We’re actually able to see these late-inning runs be put up. We have a good offense. Whenever you have a good offense, you’re able to battle until the 27th out. It was nice to see.”
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, left fielder Ian Bibiloni drew a walk from Evansville relief pitcher Augie Gallardo (0-1). The next batter, first baseman Casey Combs struck out, but Bibiloni stole second on the third strike.
That brought up Florence lead-off hitter, center fielder Axel Johnson. He took an 0-2 pitch from Gallardo to right field. Bibiloni dashed around third and scored ahead of the throw to win the game for the Y’alls.
“In talking to other guys that had (at-bats) against him, (Gallardo) was throwing a lot of cutters, a lot of sliders – everything coming in to me,” Johnson said. “I went up there expecting that. I got a slider there and got it through the infield.”
Johnson led Florence at the plate going 2 for 5 with one run batted in and one run scored. Bibiloni scored twice for Florence. Shortstop Alberti Chavez doubled and third baseman Ray Zuberer cranked his fourth home run of the season.
Zuberer’s home run led off the bottom of the third. Brahms had retired the first six batters he faced at that point. It marked one of the few times Florence squared him up. He sent it to left center to trim the Evansville lead to 2-1.
“(Brahms) did a really good job of locating his pitches – fastball down, change-up down,” Zuberer said. “He threw me a change-up up. In batting practice, we worked on hitting line drives the opposite way. I got a good pitch to hit, which I hit a line drive and it just so happened to go out of the park.”
Evansville scored two unearned runs off three Florence errors, but the four Florence pitchers in Billy Damon, Alex Wagner, Cameron Pferrer and Evan Braband (2-2) along with the Y’alls defense avoided the big inning giving Florence a chance in the end. The four pitchers combined to strike out 11 and walk just two.
“You want to minimize damage so those innings don’t blow up to four or five runs,” White said. “Errors and walks are going to happen at this level. It still gives us a chance to win games. Billy (Damon) did a good job with that. Wagner did a great job with that as well.”
Braband pitched out of a tough situation in the top of the ninth taking over with one out. Baez tripled off him to center on a 2-2 count forcing Florence to bring the infield in. But Braband struck out Evansville designated hitter Steven Sensley and coaxed Davis into popping out to second baseman Ethan Stearn in shallow right center field to end the threat.
“In that situation, I knew I had an out coming in so it made it a little easier,” Braband said. “Things like that happen. It’s not about what happens. It’s how you bounce back from it. I know I have a great defense behind me. I knew I just had to make pitches. I had a lot of confidence in Andrew Sthormes behind the plate calling pitches. I just tried to execute the best I can and the guys made plays (defensively).”
“We talk all the time about the next man up,” White said. “We can either do damage on the pitch or we take it. Whenever we’re able to do damage on a pitch, hopefully we’re able to pass it along. Late in the game, we were able to get the walks that we needed to, make the plays when we needed to and trust our teammates behind us. Good things happened.”
The Y’alls and Otters meet again at Thomas More on Wednesday in the second of a three-game series. Game time is 6:31 p.m.