By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The season-high four-game winning streak ended for the Princeton Rays with a bang on Saturday night.
The bang came from the bat of Burlington Royals catcher Chad Johnson, who knocked a grand-slam home run over right field in the sixth inning, breaking open a 1-1 contest and sparking a 6-2 win as the Royals avoided a series sweep at Hunnicutt Field.
Princeton (11-31) starting pitcher German Marquez and Burlington's starter Kevin McCarthy dueled for the first five innings, each working fast and efficiently and each surrendering one earned run in the third frame.
The Royals (19-23) got Desmond Henry across the plate from third base on a two-out slow roller of an infield single by Tyler Chism. Marquez grabbed the ball out of the grass but could not get it to catcher Armando Araiza in time.
The Rays got the score right back in their half of the inning. Johnny Eierman hit his first pitch of the game into the left side of the infield. Burlington third baseman Andrew Ayers got the edge of his glove on the ball, but it deflected away for a single.
On the next pitch, Spencer Edwards laid down a bunt up the third-base line, but a pair of Royals got their feet tangled trying to get to it. A wild pitch got Eierman to third, and Bralin Jackson's groundout to shortstop brought Eierman home for the 1-1 tie.
After five innings, Marquez' night was over. Josh Kimborowicz took over, and gave up a single, a double and a walk to load the bases and bring Johnson to the plate. He had already thrown 22 pitches at that point – 12 of them to Sam Bates.
Johnson, who ended 3 for 4 for the night, drove his second offering over the fence, and all right fielder Yoel Araujo could do was to watch it.
Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer said, “It happened so quick. Probably the at-bat that did him in was the double-digit pitch at-bat by (Bates). After that, the ball was flat, the ball was up, and he was hit pretty hard.”
“But he's going to get the ball again in a few days and he's going to have the chance to get somebody out. At this level, whether you take your lumps or whether you dominate, it's a learning process, and we hope he learns from that. I think he will.”
Sheaffer said about Marquez, “That's the plan for him that we have as an organization – five innings and he's done.
“He's going to pitch for a long time, and he's going to pitch at a high level. … There's only so many bullets a kid has in his arm, and he's got a pretty good arm, so we're going to take care of him.”
Luis Cabrera took to the mound after Kimborowicz and gave up two singles, one by Henry that led to the Royals' final score in the seventh. Oscar Armenta and the defense retired the side in the ninth inning.
Sheaffer said, “They did a good job. Armenta had a rough outing in Johnson City, so this was a good rebound for him, to come back and get a 1-2-3 inning.”
McCarthy went six innings on 63 pitches, allowing five singles while striking out five Rays.
Burlington manager Tommy Shields said, “I thought Mac was the difference in the game, the way he pounded the strike zone. He was very aggressive.”
Former starter Cesar Ogando picked up his first save of the year, tossing the last three frames.
In the eighth inning, Edwards again got a single on his first pitch. A wild pitch later, he was on second. He scored the last run on the only error of the game, when Bralin Jackson hit a ball that was mishandled by Henry in center field.
Henry atoned for the miscue a couple of batters later, when Travis Flores launched a hard shot to the wall in straight-away center. Henry made the catch and threw back to the infield to complete an inning-ending double play.
Sheaffer said, “We had our chances on offense. We just didn't come through with a big base hit. We had several base-running errors, but that happens at this level. And I'd rather have guys more aggressive than guys (who are) passive.”
“We had probably a dozen teaching moments tonight, and we'll address those.”
Shields said, “We needed a good start. We got a good start from McCarthy and we got a big hit from Chad. And we got a big play from Des Henry. Those were the three plays of the game.”
“It's nice to finish a road trip with a win. A bus ride back after a win is a lot better than a bus ride back after being swept. It was a big win for us.”
Sheaffer said he was happy to have won two out of three in the Burlington series, and then was asked about facing Bluefield today in a Mercer Cup Series game at Bowen Field.
“It starts out 0-0, and we'll see what happens,” he said.
At Hunnicutt Field
Burlington.....................001 004 100 — 6 10 1
Princeton.......................001 000 010 — 2 8 0
Kevin McCarthy, Cesar Ogando (7) and Chad Johnson. German Marquez, Josh Kimborowicz (6), Luis Cabrera (6), Oscar Armenta (9) and Armando Araiza. WP – McCarthy (3-2). LP – Kimborowicz (0-3). Sv – Ogando (1). HR – Burl, Johnson (1), 6th, 3 on. Att – 856.