A rainy Tuesday in Cortland forced the Cortland Crush and Syracuse Salt Cats to play a doubleheader on Wednesday at Onondaga Community College.
The Crush came out flat in game one, losing 9-6 but responded in a big way in game two, shutting out the Salt Cats and winning 2-0.
“Our players did not mentally prepare for our first game because they didn’t think we were going to play, because the weather,” head coach Bill McConnell said. “So, to comeback, and settle down against an equally competitive team, and after taking a whacking the first game, it was huge (to take game two).”
With the split, the Crush remain five points ahead of the Salt Cats for the East division lead. The Crush have four games left in the season while the Salt Cats have three.
“I think we definitely have a bunch of guys that want to fight,” third baseman Stephen Bennett said. “We didn’t show up to play the first game and I think the second game we were a little fired up from losing to these guys.”
The Crush came out sluggish in game one.
Cortland allowed nine runs to the Salt Cats through the first five innings and committed four errors that led to five unearned runs.
The Salt Cats offense came out of the gate swinging, getting to Crush starter Dylan Fashempour early. After runs scored in the first and second inning, Michael Giordano slapped a single that scored a run and then James Messina stole home to make it 4-0 in the third inning.
The Crush tightened the game up in the bottom of the frame. With two-outs, Syracuse left fielder Scottie O’Bryan dropped a fly ball hit by Alex Flock to keep the inning alive and put runners on first and second.
Three straight singles followed. Garrett Callaghan knocked a base hit to right field that scored Stepehen Bennett to make it 4-1. Anthony Cieszko followed that with one of his own, driving in Flock. Kam Holland finished the scoring with a single to left field, scoring Callaghan and making it 4-3.
However, that would be as the Crush would get. The Salt Cats struck for three runs of their own in the top of the fourth and two more in the fifth to grow the lead to 9-3.
Fashempour ended the game after going four innings, allowing seven runs, only four earned, on seven hits. He struck out three and walked one.
Max Kies allowed two runs in the fifth, both unearned, although he committed two errors himself on throwing miscues on ground balls to first.
Ben Mack pitched a scoreless six and seventh for the Crush.
Holland added three more runs to the board for the Crush, smacking a three-run double with the bases loaded to left field in the seventh to make it 9-6.
Holland finished the game 2-4 with four RBI’s. Callaghan finished 2-3, an RBI and a walk.
It was a pitcher’s duel to start game two.
Crush starter Brandon Shirley and Salt Cats hurler Jack Dicenso went scoreless inning for scoreless inning to open the game.
Dicenso struck out seven of the first 11 Crush batters he faced through three innings. Shirley kept the Salt Cats off the board as well, but it was a bit more difficult for him.
Shirley got out of jams in each of the first three innings, including one with runners on second and third and no outs in the second.
“The kid goes out there, whether he’s go this bets stuff or his ‘B’ stuff, he goes out there and competes and gives us a chance to win,” pitching coach Ryan Stevens said. “He’s a very passionate player, he’s very intense, he’s been like that since he was a kid.”
It was the Crush who struck first though. Bennett began the fourth inning by ripping a triple to right-center field. Nick Pastore then notched his 21st RBI of the season, putting a single into center field, bringing Bennett home.
“It was a fastball middle-away, that’s pretty much my power zone,” Bennett said. “I was surprised he threw it, but I knew I couldn’t miss if he did. It got our offense a little bit of confidence, it gave Buzz (Shirley) confidence on the mound.”
Bennett generated more offense in the top of the fifth. The Crush third baseman led off the inning with a single to right field. He then stole second and took third on a throwing error by Conner Suech.
After back-to-back-ground outs, Alex Babcock struck out on a pitch in the dirt. On the dropped-third strike, Suech threw down to first and air-mailed it over Jack Anderson’s head. That allowed Bennett to score and make it 2-0 Crush.
Shirley continued to shut-down the Salt Cats bats through the fifth inning before being pulled. He finished the game allowing only five hits while striking out three and walking two.
Garrett Bell then pitched a one-two-three sixth inning and Cregg Scherrer picked up his seventh save of the season with a scoreless seventh inning.
“They’re above their years in maturity,” Stevens said. “You can’t ask for more form two 18-year-old kids competing with college kids.”
The Crush return to action Thursday. Cortland hosts the Rome Generals with first pitch at 6 pm.