Homestand perfection… Elizabethton gushes past River Turtles in comeback fashion
BY ANDREW SMITH
On a long and stormy Sunday evening at Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark, the Elizabethton River Riders (23-18) continued their recent winning ways by defeating the Pulaski River Turtles (26-17) in come-from-behind fashion.
Sunday’s victory marked a 4-0 homestand for the River Riders, their last homestand in the month of July. It was also the last game before the Appalachian League All-Star Game that will take place Tuesday night.
Seven E-Town players made the team and will play for the West All-Stars. One of which is infielder Marcus Brown.
“I can’t wait for the experience,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, I’m gonna be there with some of my Oklahoma State teammates. It’s been a goal of some of ours coming out here, we wanted to play in that game. It’s going to be a great experience for all of us, that’s for sure.”
As for tonight’s contest, the River Riders got the party started early. Center fielder and two-hole hitter Mario Zabala put a ball over the right-center field wall in the first inning to give Elizabethton an early 1-0 lead. The home run was the sixth of the season for Zabala, who leads the team.
The River Turtles would come back strong, scoring one run apiece in the second, third and fourth innings. Pulaski tied it in the second thanks to back-to-back doubles from designated hitter Garrett Rice and All-Star catcher Ryan Johnson.
Pulaski took the lead in the third, All-Star outfielder Ross Lovich was able to score from second base because of an errant throw by E-Town second baseman John Montes.
They would extend the lead to 3-1 in the fourth due to an RBI groundout to second by shortstop Evan Minarovic.
Elizabethton got one of the runs back in their half of the inning. All-Star utility player Sam Thompson led off the inning with a single, and later come around to score via a two-out base hit off of the bat of catcher Knox Preston, making the contest 3-2.
The action continued into the sixth inning, where the River Turtles were able to get a man on second and one out before Mother Nature intervened. Lightning in the area caused the game to go into a weather delay at approximately 7:44 p.m.
During the delay, there was very little in the way of rainfall at the ballpark, however, lightning nearby would keep the game on delay.
It appeared the game would resume around 8:35 pm before more lightning forced both teams back into their clubhouses. The skies would finally clear up enough to continue the game over an hour later, as the game resumed at 9:39 p.m.
When play resumed, All-Star pitcher Luis Gonzalez entered the game in the same scenario that remained after the delay. He then allowed a walk and a single to load the bases with one out.
However, he would escape any damage in the run column thanks to a double play turned by the River Rider infield.
Elizabethton took full advantage of the Houdini act pulled by Gonzalez. Preston and Montes both reached to start the bottom of the sixth, however, Preston would be controversially picked off second.
Manager Kevin Riggs called on the leadoff hitter DJ Sullivan to sacrifice over the runners with a bunt.
On the first pitch, Sullivan missed the pitch on the bunt attempt, and Johnson threw the ball back to second and threw out Preston.
Riggs and the River Rider dugout vehemently believed that Sullivan tipped the ball, making the play dead. However, the appeal was unsuccessful, making Montes the only baserunner with one out.
Montes attempted steal of second on the very next pitch was successful. After a popout to shortstop by Sullivan, Zabala would be hit by a 3-2 pitch, bringing up Brown with runners on first and second and two outs.
Brown worked his count full before hitting a double into the left-field corner, scoring both Montes and Zabala to give E-Town a 4-3 lead heading into the seventh and final inning.
“My mindset was just to try not to do too much,” Brown said of the at-bat. “Early in the game, I didn’t feel like I had my best at-bats of the year. But, I knew I could redeem myself, and I fell in a hole early, managed to lay off some of the junk that he threw me, and was just on time with that 3-2 fastball and was able to hammer it into the left-field corner.
“You kind of know your situation and know that that’s a huge at-bat and come through,” Brown added.
Brown’s heroics weren’t done yet. In the top of the seventh and one out, River Turtles’ right fielder John Bay hit a ball deep into the hole between third base and shortstop. Brown ranged far to left and made a perfect Jeter-esque jump throw to retire Bay.
Chase Lorg struck out the next batter and secured the win for the River Riders.
“Defense has got to be there every night,” Brown said. “That’s what I’ve been taught at this level. It’s awesome to make that play and keep our team in the game. I feel like that play is what crushed their spirit, ultimately.”
The 2021 Appalachian League All-Star Game will be Tuesday night at Pulaski at 7:00 p.m. The game will be live-streamed on MLB.com and will be shown on a tape delay on MLB Network Saturday.
The River Riders will be back in action on Wednesday night as they travel to Bristol to play the State Liners. They will begin resuming a suspended game from July 13. The first pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Pulaski River Turtles 3 10 2
Elizabethton River Riders 4 8 1
W: Luis Gonzalez (2-3)
L: Patrick Sherron (0-1)
S: Chase Lorg (5)