PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Suns were one pitch away from a potentially soul-crushing loss in the first game of Friday's twi-night doubleheader at Wahconah Park.
But with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Thomas Hughes cleared the bases with a 3-run double and, three innings later, Justin Morhardt's RBI single plated Colin Gimblet from third base as the Suns rallied to beat Bristol 10-9.
"Man, being down 9-6 with two outs in the ninth, and then all of a sudden coming back and tying the game, and having to play [3 more] extra innings," said Morhardt. "I had to go in to catch from first, and to have the opportunity to walk it off, man it was one of the most fun games of my life."
The nine-inning game was a continuation of a contest that was postponed by rain in the first inning back on July 10. The second game of the doubleheader was underway at press time.
Futures League All-Star Matt Cuneo pitched out of a 12th inning jam when Logan Greene reached on a throwing error by shortstop Conor Moriarty and got around to third. But Cuneo got Christian Budzik to ground to Kevin Donati at second to end the threat.
"Finally," said Donati. "We picked up that game late. It was about time that we got a walk-off."
It was also a big night for Eric Hamilton. The Suns third baseman went 2 for 6 with three runs batted in. Those three RBI gave him 50, breaking the Futures League's single-season mark of 49. That was set by Torrington's Mike Odenwaelder in 2014.
Just how did the Suns walk this one off? Pittsfield had runners in scoring position in both the 10th and 11th innings, but could not convert.
In the 12th, Bristol reliever Randy Polonia walked Gimblet to open the inning. Two wild pitches moved Gimblet to third. Polonia fooled Hamilton, who swung at a pitch low and away for strike three. One pitch later, Morhardt ripped a single through the box, Gimblet touched home and was mobbed by his teammates.
"With one out and a guy on third base, all you have to do is hit a fly ball to the outfield and you win the game. All I was thinking was to be relaxed, look for something in the middle of the plate and just hit it hard somewhere," said the catcher-first baseman from Bryan College. "He threw it low and it kind of ran away. I tried to lift it into the outfield. I stayed with it and hit a line drive."
Morhardt was hitting .227 back on July 6. Since then, he has raised his batting average nearly 100 points and was hitting .318 as of the end of the game.
"Two outs nobody on and we lost the last two games, so it's pretty easy to just kind of fold and say 'Hey, we have another game coming,' " Suns manager Tom Conley said. "These guys battled. it was nice to find a way, especially in extra innings."
The ninth inning was a perfect demonstration of that.
Pittsfield had come back to take a 5-4 lead after six innings, but Bristol sent nine hitters to the plate in the eighth to score five runs on four hits. While the Suns got a run in the eighth to make it 9-6, things looked bleak.
That's because Colin Ridley and Donati recorded outs as the first two hitters in the ninth. Conor Moriarty, who arrived at Wahconah Park in the seventh inning after spending time at the University of Connecticut, singled to center. Justin Glover and Al Zachary both worked walks on 3-2 pitches. Then on the seventh pitch to Hughes, the University of Oklahoma Sooner hit a tailing fly ball to right. By the time Frankie Gregoire ran it down, three runs had scored and Hughes was standing on second.
The late-game excitement rendered a quality pitching performance by Ryan Simpler to the first act of this game.
The right-handed pitcher from East Tennessee was officially a relief pitcher as Brandon Shilekis made the original start. Simpler was greeted rudely as Liam Scafariello hit the first pitch of the inning over the wall in center field for a home run. Simpler recovered nicely and when his six innings was done he had given up four runs on five hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
"He gave up a first-pitch home run and they scored two on that wild pitch. It was good to see him go out there and give us six solid innings," said Conley. "His splitter is his best pitch. He keeps a lot of guys off balance."
If you were looking for a first-game unsung hero, circle reliever Adam Krol. The right-handed pitcher from St. Anselm's made his third appearance for Pittsfield and has yet to give up a run. In 4 1/3 innings, Krol has only given up one hit.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.