Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

July 12, 2014

Extra, read all about it

Bluefield takes two game lead in Mercer Cup

PRINCETON — Saturday's second installment of the Mercer Cup Series had a lot to recommend it – a beautiful evening, a crowd of 1,351, a promotion aiding the local fight against cancer – and three extra innings of dramatic baseball.

After the Princeton Rays tied the game 3-3 in the ninth inning, the Bluefield Blue Jays got a solo home run from Richard Urena with two outs in the 12th and made it hold up for a 4-3 win and a 2-0 series lead against their Mercer County neighbors.

“I walked to the plate with a lot of confidence, looking to get a good pitch, and I tried to help my team to win,” Urena said.

Bluefield (12-11) manager Dennis Holmberg said, “If there's one guy who can come to the plate and get a good pitch and hit it out of the ballpark, I am confident that he can do that. I wasn't thinking home run; maybe, an extra base hit. But he's been an all-star player to this point.”

Michael Kraft then finished out his two perfect innings of relief pitching, ending the game on a swinging strikeout to go 2-0 on the season.

That was a fitting bookend to a game that started as a pitching duel between two “A-team” starting pitchers, Joey Aquino of Bluefield and Jose Alonzo of Princeton.

Aquino allowed just one hit, a solo home run by Carter Burgess, in five innings. Other than that homer, Burgess' first of the season, Aquino allowed just one base runner. Riley Unroe drew a walk in the top of the first but was erased by the game's only double play.

“I feel it was a team effort,” Aquino said. “The guys behind me had my back, whenever the ball was hit.”

Alonzo mowed down nine straight Bluefield batters. Catcher Dan Jansen got him out of the fourth inning by throwing out two Blue Jays attempting to steal bases.

Bluefield took a 2-1 lead in the fifth. Trent Miller led off with a single and came home on a triple by Rowdy Tellez. Jansen's double to the gap in left-center got Tellez home. The Jays added a run with back-to-back hits with two outs in the sixth. Josh Almonte singled – one of his three carbon-copy hits on a 3 for 5 night – and Miller brought him home with a double to center.

That would wrap up the scoring until Princeton's Patrick Grady led off the bottom of the eighth with yet another solo home run.

The Blue Jays tied it in the ninth off new relief pitcher Rusty Isaacs. Unroe led off with a single, got to second on a sacrifice bunt, and tallied a run on a single to right by Hector Montes.

The Rays got two men with two outs in the ninth, but Urena made an unassisted forceout at second base to send the game into extra frames.

Holmberg said, “We had a two-run lead. It kind of takes you from an inflated type of feeling to a deflated feeling, but we hung in there.”

Princeton (12-10) manager Danny Sheaffer said, “It's just the opposite of the last one, we played over there, where there were so many runs scored (22 runs on 25 hits in Bluefield's 13-9 victory). It was just a shame somebody had to lose the ballgame.”

He said, “This is probably the third time in the last week that we've come back and at least tied the game or went ahead. It's a good characteristic to have. It's not something you want to do every day.”

“But this team is going to keep battling, and we play it one game at a time, regardless of if it's Bluefield or Bristol, it doesn't matter.”

Holmberg said, “It was a well-played ballgame about the first five innings or so.”

Sheaffer said, “We got everything out of our pitching staff that we could. I thought they did a great job. And their guys matched us inning for inning.”

Ruben Paredes took the mound for the Rays to start the ninth inning and gave his team a chance. In the 10th, singles by Urena and Rolando Segovia resulted in two men in scoring position, but Paredes struck out the next two batters to end the threat. That started a string of seven Blue Jays retired in order – a stretch that ended with Urena's dinger in the 12th.

Aquino said about Urena's home run, “I had a feeling. He'd been hitting the ball good, this past week. I had a good feeling about him coming up to bat.”

Asked about the importance of the series with Princeton, he said, “It was my second Mercer Cup start. I've been through it before. To me, it's a game. I've just got to go out and perform, and stick to my routine.”

Urena said, “It's a big honor for me, to win that cup and win this series.”

Beyond the victor on the scoreboard, people fighting childhood cancer locally were also winners. The Jonathan Powell Hope Foundation was the beneficiary of the “Shirt off our Back” promotion. Auctions of jerseys worn by Rays players and staff members raised $3,309, according to Princeton general manager Jim Holland.

The Mercer Cup Series moves on to game three this afternoon with a  first pitch set for 2:05 p.m. – about 16 hours after game two ended.

“We're going to prep ourselves to play, but of course, they (Princeton) have to do the same thing,” Holmberg said. “But having said that, over the past three or four years, all the games with Princeton have been, for the most part, well-played ballgames. They (Princeton) played well, over there, and we were just lucky to get that well-hit ball by Urena.”

— Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com

At Hunnicutt Field

Bluefield.......000   021   000   001  –  4  11  1

Princeton.......001   000   011  000  –  3    5  1

Joey Aquino, Conor Fisk (6), Rusty Isaacs (9), Michael Kraft (11) and Dan Jansen. Jose Alonzo, Rafael Cordova (6), Ruben Paredes (9) and Nick Ciuffo. WP – Kraft (2-0). LP – Paredes (1-2). HR – Blfd, Urena (2), 12th, 0 on; Pctn, Burgess (1), 3rd, 0 on; Grady (1), 8th, 0 on. Att – 1,351.

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