It was Heroes Night at Hunnicutt Field. Danville had more heroes on this night than Princeton did.
Blake Brown, Aris Alcantara and Casey Kalenkosky each homered and the Danville Braves rallied for a 6-3 Appalachian League win over the Princeton Rays on a muggy Saturday night in front of 858 spectators.
Danville (13-6), which won its third game in a row, is managed by Jonathan Schuerholz, who is the son of Atlanta Braves President John Schuerholz. He likes what he sees in his first place club.
“We have got a great bunch of guys,” said Schuerholz, a former player and coach in the Braves’ organization, who managed for the time last year in the Gulf Coast League. “They play hard, they pull for each other, it is a great group of guys out there.”
Princeton (10-9) jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead, but Danville pitchers didn’t allow another run and the Braves doubled up that advantage with three home runs.
“That is all we want. Our team all year long has been one that it doesn’t matter what the lead is or what the deficit is we are going to play to the end of the game and they showed again tonight,” Schuerholz said. “Three runs in the first and our team could have shut down, but our team was not going to do that.”
Princeton pitchers have allowed six home runs in the last two games, and two of three on Saturday came with two strikes on the batters.
“That is something we have been working on,” Princeton manager Michael Johns said. “Sometimes guys at this level miss pitches and guys at the big league level miss pitches so credit to their guys for swinging the bat and we missed our spot and that is what happens.”
Alcantara put Danville on the board in the third off starter Hugo Duarte with a two-out double to drive in Kalenkosky, who doubled to lead off the inning. Carlos Franco followed with a single and Oscar Hernandez couldn’t handle the throw from Willie Argo, which was the only blemish in an otherwise sterling defensive game for the Rays.
“Our pitchers are going to come around. I think our offense has done a nice job and defensively we played really well tonight other than the drop by the catcher, which is a tough play whenever you’ve got the runner coming in,” Johns said. “I thought we did a really good job defensively, we are getting better there and our pitchers will come around. They will start to trust the defense and get some ground balls, but we’ll be okay.”
Alcantara tied the score at 3-3 off losing pitcher Kevin Brandt (1-1) in the fifth with a solo shot over the left field fence.
Brown, who struck out for a league leading 31st time later in the game, followed a single by Felix Marte in the sixth by clubbing an opposite field shot over the right field fence to plate a pair of runs to put the Braves up to stay.
“He is tweaking some things, he has already in a short amount of time come a long way,” Schuerholz said. “He is really working his tail off, he is a hard working young man who has a desire to get better every day and we see the progress.
“Early on it was a struggle for him, but he has got a lot better and kudos to him, he has done all the hard work.”
Kalenkosky added a solo shot in the ninth off Pedro Silvestre for the final margin.
Princeton jumped on Danville starter Williams Perez early, with Andrew Toles lining a triple down the right field line, and he scored when Julian Morillo singled down past third base. Omar Narvaez singled to execute the hit-and-run to perfection to put runners on first and third.
Argo followed with a ground ball to score Morillo, and Darryl George _ who homered twice in a loss at Pulaski on Friday _ singled to right for the 3-0 lead, something that Johns was glad to see after Friday’s disappointing one-run loss.
“Especially after last night’s tough loss, I thought getting three in the first was important,” Johns said. “I thought we had some good at-bats throughout the game, but we just hit balls right at them. “That seems to be the way it is going right now, but they will start falling once again like they did early and we just have to keep at it.”
Perez (2-0) would settle down to retire the next 10 batters before leaving in the sixth. He picked up the win, with Danville’s fourth pitcher, Appalachian State product Nathan Hyatt, picking up his third save by finishing up in the ninth.
Princeton threatened in the seventh, with runners on first and third and one out when Morillo bunted as James Harris sped home, but the safety squeeze failed when the ball bounced right to pitcher Alex Wilson, who flipped the ball to catcher Josh Elander, who tagged out Harris.
“We were trying to get a run there and then we have our 3, 4, 5 hitters up with a runner on second, but that is something we are going to have to do,” Johns said. “It is going to come up later on in the season and I wanted to go ahead and try it tonight and it didn’t work out.
“Obviously whenever it doesn’t work out it looks bad, but that is part of it. We’ve got to be able to do the small things to win and we tried to do it tonight and it didn’t work out.”
Princeton was out-hit by Danville 10-9, but George was one of three Princeton batters with two hits. The Australian native continues to torch the ball, raising his average to .317 on the season.
“He has been really good. He is really good at hitting the pitches that he can hit,” Johns said.
“That is the name of the game. He sees the ball well, he knows his swing, he stays in the middle of the field and he has done a really nice for us.
“If the ball fell for him he would probably be hitting .400, he hits every ball hard. He has done a really nice job, good eye and hitting the pitches he can hit.”
As for the Braves, it would be hard to find a bigger Atlanta fan than Schuerholz.
“From the time I was 11 years old the only team I have known is the Atlanta Braves, both as a son of a G.M., a player in the organization to going from a coach to now a manager,” he said. “This organization means a whole lot to me.”
Much like his Danville Braves, he expects the Braves in Atlanta to be in contention all season long.
“If we get a couple of guys hot and we get some guys healthy we will be okay,” he said. “I think we have got a good ball club, I think Freddie (Gonzalez) and them do a great job, but what do I know, I am just an Appy League manager.
“Every night we check up on them and see how they are doing . It is one of the things about this organization is we care about each other from top to bottom.”
Princeton will host Danville twice more before taking the season’s first mandatory off day on Tuesday. The first pitch today is at 3 p.m., with general admission tickets free of charge.
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
At Hunnicutt Field
Danville……………..002 012 001 _ 6 10 1
Princeton……………300 000 000 _ 3 9 0
Williams Perez, Alex Wilson (6), Mike Hashem (8), Nathan Hyatt (9) and Josh Elander. Hugo Duarte, Kevin Brandt (4), Pedro Silvestre (7), R.J. Davis (9) and Oscar Hernandez, Chad Nacapoy (5). W_Perez (2-0); L_Brandt (1-1); S—Nathan Hyatt (2). HR—Aris Alcantara (2) 5th, 0 on; Blake Brown (3) 6th, 1 on; Casey Kalenkosky (2) 9th, 0 on. Time—2:36. Att—858.