On a night where shortstop Johnny Morales became the franchise record holder for games played with 338, the River City Rascals (21-23) plated eight runs on 14 hits and powered their way past the visiting Gateway Grizzlies (11-34) in the series opener, 8-2, Friday night at CarShield Field.
In total, all nine Rascals in the lineup reached and eight of the nine recorded a hit to help snap the three game losing streak and finish the month of June on a good note.
The offensive night began in the second inning for the Rascals as slugger Braxton Martinez smashed a towering two-run home run just fair of the left field foul pole against Grizzlies starter Ja’Vaun West to take a 2-0 lead. The home run was his seventh of the year which is good for the team lead.
Jason Merjano matched his teammate with a round tripper of his own to extend the Rascals lead to three runs and then after starting southpaw Dan Ludwig got out of a bases loaded jam to toss his fourth straight scoreless frame, his offense continued that momentum into the batters box.
Mike Jurgella led off the inning with a single and Clint Freeman ripped a double down the right field line to bring up Martinez once again.
Although he popped out and failed to drive in a run, his teammate Brandon Thomas picked him up by notching a ground rule double to extend the Rascals lead to five runs.
Gateway would answer though with their only two runs the entire night against Ludwig and the Rascals pitching staff in the top of the fifth with a RBI single from Blake Brown and then speedy Matt Hearn came into score on the throw to first during a sacrifice bunt attempt.
One of those two runs were unearned and Ludwig finished with a six inning affair and allowed just three hits and struck out six to earn his fourth win of the year which ties Reese Gregory for the team lead.
“I was just focusing on getting all my pitches over for strikes and keep the hitters on their heels,”Ludwig said. “The defense behind me was also great tonight which is vital for me since I am a pitch to contact pitcher.”
In the bottom of the sixth, the Rascals continued their power surge courtesy of Brandon Thomas who had his best game up to date in a Rascals uniform.
The long ball made it 6-2 and then he capped off his heroic night with his second RBI ground rule double and then would eventually come into score on a RBI single from Johnny Morales.
“I think just taking the game today one pitch at a time was the main reason I was able to be successful,” Thomas said. “This game definitely ranks up there as far as my Frontier League career goes.”
Thomas and Morales combined for five of the 14 total hits and then three other players notched a multi-hit game: Josh Ludy, Mike Jurgella and Clint Freeman.
“It always feels good and get a win and even better to do it with a couple hits and a RBI on memento night,” Morales said after playing in his franchise record 338th game. “I have been blessed to be able to have this long of a career and I have a great support system all the way around, including at home with my parents and my sister, my wife, everyone here with the Rascals and my manager Steve and host families.”
“Johnny has been a pillar for us at shortstop for five years now and he has been a fantastic player in our organization,” manager Steve Brook said. “I am proud to have him on his club and congratulations on this accomplishment.”
Morales helped the Rascals secure the victory and allowed his team to avoid falling four games under the .500 mark for the first time all season.
The series continues Saturday night with right-hander Reese Gregory on the mound.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. at CarShield Field.
River City Rascals