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Phillies outlast Salsa in opening game of NET series
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
As Warwick Phillies 12U skipper Dana Clark put it, the baseball gods haven’t always been on his team’s side this summer.
On Monday, they were.
In the opening game of a best-of-three New Era Tournament qualifier series, Salsa appeared to defeat the Phillies when Bryan Menendez scored from third base on a suicide squeeze in the bottom of the seventh inning. But in a controversial ruling, the home plate umpire called Menendez out when he failed to slide and made contact with Phils’ catcher Justin Minnich.
"I did (agree with the ruling)," Clark said. "I felt as though there was no way my catcher would end up on his back without contact and the rule is clear that you need to avoid contact. And I didn’t feel as though the Salsa player made any attempt to do so."
Granted new life, the Phillies (9-8) capitalized, as Gabe Cicala stole second base and scored on back-to-back Salsa (12-5) throwing errors in the top of the eighth, and then pitcher Nick Breznak tossed a perfect inning in relief to nail down their wild 5-4 victory in Lancaster.
Breznak, who struck out two and walked none, got the win with 1 2/3 innings innings of scoreless relief behind starter Nate Hess.
"The game had a little bit of everything, didn’t it?," Clark quipped. "I told our guys, ‘Look, we’ve been in a lot of close games where the baseball gods haven’t been in our favor. This is the time where it all evens out. This is your chance to capitalize on that.’ And we were fortunate to scratch one across there in the eighth."
With a one game to none lead, the Phillies were hoping to close it out last night (Wednesday) on their home field and clinch an automatic berth in the NET’s final four.
Chances were, however, that Hess wasn’t going back to the hill in the second game after throwing 113 pitches while getting a no-decision on Monday.
Hess yielded only two earned runs on three hits in 6 1/3 innings, to go along with 10 K’s. He also gave up two unearned runs in the first inning after issuing a pair of two-out walks. The righty nearly got out of it, but Kevin Arroyo scored on a strikeout-wild pitch and then Cee Torres laced an RBI single to left to put Salsa up 2-1.
The Phillies, who scored their first run on Minnich’s bases-loaded walk in the top of the first inning, got the equalizer in the third. Brandon Perezous worked a leadoff walk and later scored on Ryan Aukamp’s RBI single to center field off of Torres.
Meanwhile, Hess settled in and retired 13 of 14 batters after the first inning, allowing only a third inning two-out walk to Chris Rosario.
"(Nate) did a phenomenal job for us," Clark said. "Some early-season injuries kept him off the mound in the earlier part of the season and he’s really a solid fixture for us at shortstop. So we really need to pick and choose where we use Nate. I think he had over 100 pitches, so his adrenaline was certainly going full bore (Monday) night. He did a heck of a job."
Hess also did a heck of a job working a five-pitch walk from Arroyo leading off the fifth. After stealing second and going to third on a wild pitch, Hess scored the go-ahead run when Aukamp hit a sac fly into shallow right field.
The Phils then added an insurance run in the top of the sixth on the legs of Minnich. The six-hole hitter led off with a single to left-center and advanced on a passed ball. Moments later, Minnich stole third and scored when the catcher’s throw went into left, making it 4-2.
With the way Hess was throwing, that looked like it might be enough for the Phillies.
"I’m weary of riding (Nate) too hard because of some of the earlier problems he had in the season with his arm, but he said, ‘Coach, I’m good, I’m ready to go.’ What I like about Nate is he’s honest," Clark said. "We had a discussion each inning, but as long as he kept telling me he was ready to go, I was going to give him the ball."
But Salsa didn’t go quietly. Three-hole hitter Arroyo smashed a double to right and scored on Rosario’s hard-hit double to deep left-center. David Peguero’s RBI ground out to second eventually plated Rosario with the game-tying run.
"For us, if that was any other part of the (Salsa) order, I think we get out of there with a win in the sixth," Clark said. "But if you look at the stats for (Arroyo and Rosario), those are two of their bigger hitters."
Things then got a little crazy in the seventh. After surviving the play with Menendez at the plate, the Phillies avoided another scare when Hess, playing shortstop, made a lunging catch on a pop-up behind the mound with Breznak pitching and JoJo Metzler in scoring position.
"If Nate doesn’t make that diving play, that’s a game-changer right there," Clark said.
Turns out it was Cicala who made the game -changing play in the eighth. Cicala, who had three of Warwick’s seven hits, topped a bouncer tight to the third-base line off of hard-throwing Arroyo for a one-out single. A couple of pitches later, he took off for second and continued to third when the throw went into center field. Then when the Salsa outfielder air-mailed a throw over third, Cicala walked home to put the Phillies in front to stay.
"We had scored another run earlier (on an error) and their infield looked like it was an area we could exploit," Clark said. "(Gabe) is one of the fastest guys on the team, so it was a risk, but it was worth taking that risk."
It was a risk that the baseball gods favored. More PHILLIES, page B-10
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