By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It took one swing.
Travis Flores clobbered a home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, and three Princeton pitchers scattered five hits, leading the Rays to a three-game sweep of Johnson City with a 2-1 victory in front of 642 spectators on Monday night at Hunnicutt Field.
After a 1-7 start to the season, the Rays (4-7) won three straight over the Cardinals (7-5), including a second straight one-run win over Johnson City.
“We are playing one game at a time. We got behind the eight-ball and it is going to take one win at a time to get back to .500, that is our goal now, that is our goal first,” said Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer, whose Rays beat the Cardinals 4-3 in 12 innings on Sunday. “It was two close games, two one-run games and it could have went either way, but we got the big hit tonight, they didn’t.
“We still can improve in a lot of things that we do, but baby steps and we will try to get back to .500.”
Princeton tied the score at 1-1 in the sixth on an RBI triple by Bralin Jackson, and Flores slammed the second pitch he saw in the eighth off Will Anderson and deposited it well over the left field fence.
“It was definitely nice, it was a fastball in and I had a pretty good swing on it,” Flores said. “I just didn’t let myself get behind in the count and took advantage of the first fastball I saw. You get a good pitch and it will go.”
Hunter Wood struck out of all three batters he faced in the ninth to pick up the save. Clayton Crum picked up in the win in relief, while Jorge Rodriguez surrendered just three hits and one run in sixth innings of work.
“The bullpen was great,” Sheaffer said. “Crum threw the ball super, Wood threw the ball good so we are happy.”
Johnson City starter Blake McKnight was equally stingy, allowing just five hits and one run in six innings on the mound. The fast-working 32nd round draft choice out of Evangel University in Missouri, retired the first 10 batters he faced, and that first hit by Jackson was a broken bat infield single.
Princeton, which out-hit Johnson 7-5, were out-hit 12-7 by the Cardinals on Sunday, but three of those hits by the Rays were also home runs.
“Yesterday they had like (seven) hits and three of them were solo home runs and then tonight both guys were throwing pretty well and it was a quick game in that regard,” Johnson City manager Joe Kruzel said. “Those guys were throwing strikes and getting ground balls and quick outs and the next time you looked up it was the seventh inning.
“We had a chance in the eighth and we didn’t cash him with one out and first and third and then the guy hits the solo home run. That is a tough loss, but we had some chances there we didn’t cash in on.”
Johnson City, which also stranded runners on first and second in the second, took the lead in the third when Richy Pedroza walked and scored as Ronnierd Garcia lined a double just inside the left field line.
However, the Cardinals, who had two runners on with one out in the eighth, continues to struggle in key situations, unlike the first nine games of the season when Johnson City was 7-2.
“It just seems like in this series we couldn’t capitalize on mistakes and there were very few of them,” said Kruzel, whose Cardinals were led by Garcia with a pair of hits. “They didn’t give us a lot, but we couldn’t take advantage of any of their mistakes.
“You have to take your hat off to them, they played a helluva series.”
That lead held up until the sixth when Douglas Duran doubled to left field and crossed the plate on a triple to right by Jackson.
No one scored again until the eighth when Flores crushed an offering from Anderson and sent it into the parking lot beyond the left field fence.
“Last night we had three solo shots,” Flores said. “Their starting pitcher is good, he had run on his fastball and kept getting it to roll over so we got into their bullpen.”
Flores, who won a Power Showcase home run derby while still a high school star in Arizona, was thrilled to have played a role in the resurgence of the Rays.
“Definitely, especially a game like that,” Flores said. “It is fun, a win like that last night. I had the day off yesterday, a much needed day off and just came up big tonight.
“We started out slow, but we have turned it around this series, we got the sweep so it feels good.”
Flores, who joined Duran and Jackson with two hits each, clobbered an inside fastball from Anderson for his third home run of the season.
“He had a couple of good at-bats tonight, a line drive base hit to left field, and the ball carries well in this ball park,” Sheaffer said. “We got the big hit tonight, they didn’t and we played well.
“We are looking forward to an off day tomorrow and Bluefield on Wednesday.”
Up next is a rare day off for the Rays, followed by a visit from Bluefield on Wednesday for the first game of the annual Mercer Cup series.
Flores and the Rays will be ready.
“I hear it is a big thing and something we have got to win,” Flores said. “We won it last year, didn’t we? We have got to take it down again.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
at Hunnicutt Field
Johnson City............001 000 000 — 1 5 0
Princeton.................000 001 01x — 2 7 3
Blake McKnight, Will Anderson (7) and Jonathan Keener. Jorge Rodriguez, Clayton Crum (7), Hunter Wood (9) and Wilmer Dominiquez. W—Crum (1-0); L—Anderson (0-1); S—Wood (1). HR—Flores (3). Att—642.