The Defending Frontier League Champion Evansville Otters (39-30) scored four times in the top of the seventh inning to break the game open and hand the River City Rascals (38-34) an 8-2 loss in the series opener Friday night at CarShield Field.
The defeat marks the Rascals second in a row and over the past 18 innings, the Rascals offense has only been able to muster two runs on a combined seven hits.
Josh Ludy and Braxton Martinez accounted for three of the five hits and both runs, coming via a pair of solo home runs to keep the game close during the early stages of the game.
Ludy, who is tied for third in Rascals history with 39 home runs notched the first home run of the night and it came in the bottom of the second against the Otters starter Luc Rennie.
The solo shot tied the game up at one and the Rascals had another scoring opportunity two innings later after back-to-back two out singles from Ludy and Merjano.
A wild pitch from Rennie moved them both into scoring position and a walk issued to Martinez loaded the bases for Clint Freeman.
However, Rennie buckled down and got help from his second baseman Josh Allen to end the threat.
The Otters offense used that energy and added a pair of runs on three hits in their next opportunity against Rascals starting southpaw Hector Hernandez to take a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth.
Otters’ starter, Luc Rennie, was put back in line for the win but he would live dangerously the rest of his outing.
In the bottom of the fifth, Rennie walked Brandon Thomas and Mike Jurgella to put the tying runs on base with no outs. However, a solid defensive play by the Otters shortstop Chris Riopedre on a ball off the bat of Johnny Morales took some pressure off of Rennie.
“It was a hit and run and Morales executed perfectly putting the ball in the hole but the shortstop, who was close to the second base bag got over and made a play,” manager Steve Brook said. “We still had runners on second and third with one out but if that play doesn’t get made it would have scored Thomas and opened the scoring a little bit more.”
Rennie got out of the frame without a run coming into score and maintained the 3-1 lead.
He would last one more frame and gave up his final run in the sixth on a solo shot from Braxton Martinez, his team leading 12th of the year, to narrow the gap to 3-2.
The final line on Rennie was six innings, allowing two runs, earned, on four hits. The San Diego native also walked five and struck out six.
His relief corps had a lot more breathing room than he did as by the time they took the mound, the Otters offense extended their lead to five runs with a four run seventh inning.
Veteran John Schultz stroked a two-run home run and the other two runs came via a Zach Welz RBI triple and he scampered home two batters later on a groundout to make it 7-2.
The Otters plated their final run in the ninth inning against Matt Dallas with a two-out RBI single from Riopedre that gave him a three RBI night.
Kyano Cummings ended up being the Otters only reliever and he allowed just two baserunners through three innings to earn his seventh save of the year.
Hernandez took the loss, his seventh of the year and allowed six runs, earned, on seven hits and struck out eight.
The Rascals look to get back on track Saturday night and even up the series with Zeb Sneed on the mound.
“These games are huge down the stretch, especially when you are playing teams that you are trying to catch,” Brook commented. “However, these games do cost just as much as the ones that we won and lost earlier in the year. All it takes is one good day to get rolling again and we get to come back and play another game tomorrow.”
First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.
River City Rascals