By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A cold bucket of water was poured on Hunter Lockwood’s head.
A bath never felt so good.
“Yeah,” he said, with a big smile. “Absolutely.”
Lockwood drilled a fastball over the left field fence with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning, and the Princeton Rays won for the fourth straight time with a 4-3 Appalachian League victory over Burlington in front of 754 spectators on Friday night at Hunnicutt Field.
Princeton (11-30) appeared destined to win in the ninth, but Pedro Gonzalez hit a solo home run for the Royals with two outs in the ninth to tie the score at 3-3.
Lockwood said the Rays refused to fold despite what has been a season with few reasons to smile, at least until the last four days.
“With the way the season is going we have just tried to fight through it and fight through it,” Lockwood said. “The past couple of games, the past week we have been really coming together and doing things as a team and getting runners over and all that.
“Little things put together leads to big things in the end.”
It certainly did for Lockwood, who had hit the ball hard all night, including a line drive to left that was caught by a diving Tyler Chism in the fourth, a triple to center field in the sixth and another long fly ball to center in the eighth.
“The line drive early there got caught, but I just kept trying to hit the ball hard and it worked out in the end,” said Lockwood, a 11th round draft choice in June out of Weatherford College in Texas.
It was Lockwood’s triple that led to a 3-2 lead in the sixth. He led off with the three-bagger and scored when Yoel Araujo hit a grounder in front of the plate that was fielded by Burlington pitcher Javier Reynoso, but his throw to first was low, allowing Lockwood to score and Araujo to reach third.
Araujo was later caught in a rundown on a ground ball, but the Rays still led with two outs in the top of the ninth.
That is when Gonzalez clobbered a fastball from Clayton Crum over the left field fence to tie the score at 3-3.
Princeton manager Danny Scheaffer acknowledged that those mistakes probably would have cost the Rays earlier in the season, but his club showed perseverance, working out of a first and second and two out jam in the top of the 10th.
Ryan Mattes, who had worked a perfect bottom of the ninth for Burlington (18-23), retired the first two batters in the 10th, but Lockwood greeted him on the first pitch with the game-winning blast.
“There was no doubt,” said Lockwood, who was soaked with the bucket of ice water while being interviewed after the game. The celebration continued in the clubhouse where he was seen cleaning up after getting showered in the face with shaving cream, a common ritual for a baseball team.
Princeton, which had scored 32 runs its previous three games, was stifled early by Burlington’s Zach Lovvorn, but the Rays got on the board in the fourth.
Enmanuel Paulino and Armando Araiza each singled, and Paulino — who moved to third on a miscue by center fielder Alfredo Escalera — scored on a single by Travis Flores.
The lead grew to 2-0 in the fifth when Spencer Edwards reached on a two-out single, moved to second on a walk to Paulino and scored on a single to center by Araiza.
Jorge Rodriguez, who entered with a record of 0-5, worked five solid innings, allowing three hits and no runs, while striking out seven and walking none.
However, Burlington jumped on Darren Fischer in the sixth. He walked Escalera and Ramon Torres followed with the first of three home runs over the left field fence in the game.
Princeton answered with Lockwood’s triple and the throwing error, one of three miscues in the field for the Royals. Meanwhile, the Rays played error-less baseball, turning a pair of double plays on a line drive to Edwards at short in the sixth that erased a possible rally, and another twin killing came on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the eighth.
Princeton out-hit the Royals 10-8, led with two hits each by Lockwood, Edwards, Flores and Araiza. Lockwood, who originally played at Oklahoma before transferring to Weatherford, scored two runs in the win, and Blanchard had a double for the Rays.
Chism and Torres had two hits apiece for Burlington, which struck out 10 times in the game.
The Rays will go for the three-game sweep tonight at 7:05 p.m. Lockwood said the Rays are feeding off success that has finally come to them.
“We had a couple of good games (this week) in Johnson City, everybody started hitting a little bit, that built a little bit of confidence for us,” Lockwood said. “The whole game today we would get a lead, lose a lead, get a lead, lose a lead, but there was still a feeling in the dugout we were going to win and this will really help build our confidence.”
At Hunnicutt Field
Burlington………………000 002 001 0 — 3 8 3
Princeton…………………..000 111 000 1 — 4 10 0
Zach Lovvorn, Javier Reynoso (6), Ryan Mattes (9) and Pedro Gonzalez. Jorge Rodriguez, Darren Fischer (6), Clayton Crum (8) and Armando Araiza. W—Crum (3-1); L—Mattes (0-1). HR—Ramon Torres (B) 6th, 1 on; Pedro Gonzalez (3), 9th, 0 on; Hunter Lockwood (3) 10th, 0 on. Att—754.