Wins against the Frontier League West Division leaders have not come easy for the Florence Y’alls this year, especially on the road.
But the Y’alls (32-43) did manage to come away with one win against the Gateway Grizzlies (46-28) at their home Grizzlies Ballpark located in the St. Louis suburb of Sauget, Illinois. The Grizzlies took two-of-three in the series despite Florence leading in all three games.
After losing the first two, Florence won 6-4 on Thursday.
“(Thursday) was nice,” said Chad Rhoades, Florence Manager. “Coming in, we obviously wanted to win two out of three to make things easier on ourselves for our goal. But we’re still on track. We came into this one a little bit shorthanded in the bullpen. That kind of came back to hurt us in that second game.”
Florence resides a half-game behind Windy City (32-42) for sixth place in the division. The Y’alls are 9.5 games behind Evansville (41-33) for the third playoff spot in the division with 21 games to play.
Gateway snapped Florence’s season-high five-game winning streak with a 5-1 win Tuesday. After opening with a 1-0 lead on the first when Brian Fuentes doubled in Brennan Price, the Grizzlies scored twice in the bottom of the second.
The scored stayed 2-1 for a while. Gateway added two in the bottom of the seventh and one more in the bottom of the eighth.
Gateway outhit Florence 12-5 in the contest. First baseman Craig Massey led the Y’alls, going 2-for-4.
Jake McMahill (2-5) took the pitching loss for the Y’alls, pitching six innings and striking out six. Aaron Rund pitched two innings in relief and struck out three.
Gateway took the Wednesday game 14-7 as the Florence bullpen failed to protect an early 6-2 lead. The Grizzlies scored six in the bottom of the fifth to go up 8-7 then added six over the next three innings.
“They scored 12 runs with two out,” Rhoades said. “We had that inning where we couldn’t put them away. We were unable to finish any of those innings in general, which was a little bit frustrating to see. I thought we played clean. It’s just on the pitching side, we made some mistakes, and they made us pay for it.”
Gateway outhit Florence, 16-13. Fuentes, right fielder Harrison DiNicola, second baseman Jeremiah Burks, shortstop Ed Johnson and left fielder Hank Ziesler had two hits each. Price hit a solo home run to lead off the game with Massey, center fielder Ray Zuberer and Zeisler adding one double each.
“Our game plan was to keep doing what we’re doing, play as a team,” Fuentes said. “We wanted to take at least one of them so we could get momentum going back home. It’s about trusting our team, trusting our coaches. We are really bought in.”
Carter Spivey started the game and pitched into the fifth inning, striking out three and walking three before Ross Thompson took over. Thompson (1-1) pitched through the seventh, striking out three and walking one before Alex Theis pitched the eighth.
Florence pulled off a 6-4 win Thursday. The Y’alls took the lead for good in the top of the fourth when Burks hit a solo home run to lead off. Price then hit a sacrifice fly to left scoring Johnson to give Florence a 3-1 advantage. The Y’alls added three in the top of the sixth to go up 6-1.
Gateway did not go away without a fight. The Grizzlies made the final score in the bottom of the ninth with a two-run home run with one out. Florence reliever Brian McKenna struck out Gateway shortstop Mark Vierling with two out to end the game.
Ryan Watson (2-2) pitched seven strong innings to earn the win for Florence, striking out six, walking two and allowing six hits. Watson has a 3.30 earned-run average on the season.
“(Watson) and Spivey do a real good job of reading the situation,” Rhoades said. “I thought there was more Spivey could have done (Wednesday), in particular the fifth. I think Watson kind of piggybacked off that and didn’t make the same mistakes. I thought he attacked the zone. He didn’t allow runners once he got to two strikes. He pitches all his stuff really well. He used the bottom of the zone well. He’s a gamer.”
Nick Ernst retired the side in the eighth to set up McKenna. Ernst struck out Gateway leadoff hitter Jairus Richards and left fielder Cole Brannen in the frame.
“I thought I got ahead early. Once you get ahead, it makes it 100 times easier to pitch obviously,” Ernst said. “My off-speed stuff worked, too. I got a change-up to land to a lefty for strike one, which was huge. I could pretty much go to anything after that.”
Gateway outhit Florence, 9-8. Burks led the way going 3-for-4. Johnson and left fielder Lane Hoover had doubles.
Florence plays host to the Lake Erie Crushers (29-46) starting Friday at 7:03 p.m.