After losing three of four contests during a pivotal series at York last week, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs sought to keep its playoff hopes alive when they ventured to New Jersey to play Somerset for three games last weekend and then headed on to New York to begin a four-game series on Monday night versus Long Island.
Southern Maryland (47-66 overall, 22-22 Freedom Division second half) enjoyed a promising start to the Monday outing at Long Island (67-46, 24-19) as it scored a pair of unearned runs in the top of the third inning against Ducks starter Darin Downs. Blue Crabs starter Dusten Knight did not allow a base runner through the first 4 2/3 innings, but he would eventually suffer a tough loss as Long Island rallied to win 3-2 at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip, New York.
Knight allowed two hits in a scoreless fifth then yielded his first run of the night in the home half of the sixth. Long Island forged the lead for good in the home half of the seventh when Hector Sanchez doubled and scored on a double by Deibinson Romero, then John Apostolo followed with a single that plated Romero to put the Ducks ahead, 3-2.
Knight (1-4) went the first seven innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits with five strikeouts. He retired 14 straight Long Island hitters to begin his outing before Romero’s two-out single came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth.
Southern Maryland had two on and two out in the top of the eighth, but Long Island sent in closer Pedro Beato who dominated from there. Beato fanned Josh McAdams to end the Blue Crabs’ threat in the eighth then he struck out Charlie Valerio, Jon Griffin and Rubi Silva in the ninth to notch his fifth save. Valerio fanned four times on the night as the Blue Crabs collected 17 strikeouts in the loss.
Southern Maryland scored two unearned runs against Downs in the third as Griffin reached on an error, then both he and Silva scored when Travis Witherspoon beat out a bunt single and Romero, the Ducks’ third baseman, committed a throwing error. Downs limited the Blue Crabs to two unearned runs and fanned 11 in six complete innings but did not factor in the decision.
“We had a disappointing series at York,” Southern Maryland manager Stan Cliburn said. “We lost three of four games up there and only scored five runs in those four games. We bounced back to win the series at Somerset and that’s what we need to do from here on out. We have to win series.”
Sunday, Southern Maryland went in quest of a three-game series sweep versus Somerset at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, New Jersey, but fell 5-4.
The visitors staked southpaw starter Tommy Thorpe to an early 2-0 lead and the Blue Crabs hurler held the Patriots hitless through the first four frames. But Somerset responded with three runs in the fifth and two more in the seventh to forge a 5-2 lead. Southern Maryland countered with two runs in the top of the eighth when Tony Thomas scored on a triple by Valerio who then scored on a single by Griffin. But Chris Beck notched his second save by retiring the Blue Crabs in order in the ninth.
“Thorpe threw very well through the first four innings, but again he could not get through the fifth without giving up some runs,” Cliburn said. “He’s been good all season through the first three, four innings, but seems to struggle in the fifth. Our bullpen has been doing a nice job for us. We just have to produce a few more runs.”
Saturday, in a 5-1 win, Valerio gave the Blue Crabs an early advantage with a three-run homer in the top of the second and Valerio added another RBI on a groundout in the eighth, one inning after Silva doubled home a run.
“We see what our pitchers do night after night, so we need to score more runs for them,” Valerio said. “Offensively, we have struggled most of the season. We have some games where we score some runs, but we haven’t been consistent.”
Southern Maryland pitchers John Hayes, Adam Choplick and James Dykstra combined to limit the Patriots to one run, a double by Craig Massey that scored Gabriel Bracamonte in the fifth. Hayes pitched well, but did not complete five innings to qualify for a win and Choplick (2-2) eventually garnered the victory after tossing 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while fanning four.
“I thought Hayes threw well early in the game, but he couldn’t get through the fifth,” Cliburn said. “Choplick came in and did an outstanding job for us and he got the win. I thought Dykstra had another good outing for us in relief. Our bullpen has usually been outstanding, especially when we’ve had the lead late in ballgames.”
Friday night, Southern Maryland veteran ace hurler and pitching coach Daryl Thompson limited the Patriots to one run in seven innings and Dykstra and closer Mat Latos each tossed one scoreless inning of relief to preserve a 2-1 victory for the Blue Crabs.
Southern Maryland broke the scoreless deadlock in the top of the fifth when Griffin smacked a solo home run, but the Patriots tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Thompson allowed a solo homer to Rey Navarro. The Blue Crabs scored an unearned run in the top of the sixth and Thompson, Dykstra and Latos made it stand over the last three frames with Latos picking up his 20th save.
Thompson (14-7), the La Plata High School graduate, allowed just a run on five hits while walking two and striking out five. His 14 wins and 138 strikeouts lead the Atlantic League.
Thursday in the series finale at PeoplesBank Park in York, Pennsylvania, Southern Maryland suffered a 3-0 setback to the Revolution despite a good outing from starter Kyle Simon. The Blue Crabs failed to score a run against York pitching for the second straight game and dropped three of the four games in the series.
“I thought our starters threw well at York,” Cliburn said. “We just did not score many runs. We only scored five runs in four games and we got shut out twice. You’re can’t win if you can’t score and that’s been something we’ve been trying to correct all season.”
Southern Maryland will conclude its four-game series at Long Island on Wednesday and Thursday evening and finish the team’s 11-game, three-city road trip. The Blue Crabs return home for a four-game, three-day series with York, beginning with a doubleheader on Friday. The first game of Friday’s twin-bill, will make up a July 4 postponement and cap the first-half schedule for both teams and will not affect the second-half standings.