Following a successful return from the Atlantic League All-Star break when it swept the visiting Lancaster Barnstormers in a four-game series at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs ventured north to Connecticut seeking to continue their newfound, torrid winning ways.
Southern Maryland headed into Tuesday’s game at New Britain Stadium against the New Britain Bees riding a six-game win streak and started quickly when Joe Benson belted a two-out, solo home run in the top of the first inning. But the Bees responded with two runs in the bottom of the second against Blue Crabs starter Craig Stem, making his first start in over two weeks, who went no further.
Southern Maryland (29-44 overall, 4-0 second half) then rallied with single runs in the fifth and sixth to tie and take the lead and it was enough for a 3-2 win and extend the win streak to seven straight overall and fourth to start the second half.
Southern Maryland’s bid for an eighth straight victory was put on hold Wednesday night as that game was postponed due to inclement weather. The Blue Crabs and Bees were scheduled to play two, seven-inning games on Thursday with Kyle Simon — who was Wednesday’s scheduled starter — slated to go in the opener and veteran Daryl Thompson tabbed for the second game.
Southern Maryland returns home to start a three-game weekend series versus Sugar Land tonight and the series lasts through Sunday, then High Point comes to Waldorf for three games starting Monday.
“We know what we’re going to get from Daryl every time he goes out there,” Cliburn said. “His last outing was fantastic. Our pitching has been good for us all season. We just have to come up with ways to score more runs. Defensively, we’ve been solid. We just have to look at the second half as winning series.”
Tuesday, Southern Maryland welcomed Stem back to the rotation after missing two weeks with soreness in his right forearm. Stem (4-3) only lasted two innings and left trailing 2-1 but did not factor in the decision.
“Really, we were only looking to get Stem to throw two innings last night,” Cliburn said. “It was his first start since before the All-Star break and we had him on a strict, two-inning limit. Our bullpen was fantastic. It all started with [Tommy] Thorpe and then continued right through to Latos, who got another save.”
The Blue Crabs got their returning hurler off the hook in the fifth when Jon Griffin, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on a single by Eddie Garcia.
Southern Maryland regained the 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth. Tony Thomas led off the inning with a double, took third on a groundout by Charlie Valerio then scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by Rubi Silva. Neither team would score during the remainder of the contest as pitching prevailed over the last three frames although each team had 10 hits on the night.
Southern Maryland had a chance to add an insurance run in the top of the ninth. Kent Blackstone smacked a two-out double and Garcia followed with a single that failed to score the lead runner. Closer Mat Latos allowed a leadoff single to Logan Moore in the bottom of the ninth, but induced Mike Carp to ground into a 4-6-3 double play started by Blackstone then fanned Darren Ford looking to end it.
Thorpe allowed just two hits and struck out four in 3 2/3 innings of relief to get the win an improve his record to 2-2. Latos picked up his 10th save and lowered his ERA to 0.72.
“We turned a few double plays and we threw out another runner at the plate,” Cliburn said of Tuesday’s win. “We got really good pitching and we played really good defense and we scraped out just enough runs to get it done.”
Thompson was scheduled to pitch the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader at New Britain, his first outing since he came within two outs of throwing a seven-inning perfect game against the Lancaster Barnstormers last Friday. It was a performance that offered the veteran hurler and current Blue Crabs first-year pitching coach a chance to shine on several levels.
“I felt really good the whole game,” Thompson said. “It would have been nice to finish it out, but those games keep me coming back each season. They also show the other guys on the staff what it takes to win games in this league.”