In a 14-7 game that featured two home runs – including a grand slam – it was an inning of “small ball” that propelled Cleveland to a big win Wednesday over Altoona Johnston Realty.
Miseal Guzman, Brenden Spaulding and Matt Detering led an offensive explosion as the Blaze capped Pool B play with a 14-7 victory at Roxbury Park.
The 2-1 Blaze scored three in the first, four in the seventh and five in the eighth in sending Altoona to a 0-3 pool record.
The win wasn’t enough to advance Cleveland out of pool play and into the single-elimination bracket. New York’s 11-2 triumph over New Brunswick created a three-way tie and Cleveland was the odd team out on a tiebreaker (fewest runs allowed), according to AAABA officials.
With his team leading 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Cleveland manager Joseph Borkey reined in his free-swinging hitters and turned to his speedsters.
Ninth batter Austin Mora slapped a single through the left side, and when leadoff hitter Guzman showed bunt then pulled back, Mora swiped second base.
Guzman, a lefty, then pushed a perfect bunt to the left of the pitcher’s mound and beat it out for a hit.
Anthony Jackson’s single scored Mora, and an infield error sent Guzman to third, setting up Spaulding’s sacrifice fly to center.
A double by Aaron Valentine and a single by Jacob Nagy and suddenly the lead was 9-4 and Altoona starting pitcher Gage Coudriet was done for the day.
Detering tacked on a three-run homer in a five-run eighth for good measure.
Borkey said he had been watching the Altoona infielders in the early innings, looking for his spot to turn his burners loose.
“My nine and one hitters are good bunters and they’re the two fastest guys on our team,” Borkey said. “We were looking for a chance to maybe hit-and-run with them. We had some guys earlier turn around as if to bunt just to see how (Altoona) would react.”
There was plenty of power in the game, too.
Guzman tripled, singled twice, scored three times and drove in a run. His liner into the corner in right field in the eighth inning had him standing on third without a throw.
Spaudling, hitting third, doubled twice, singled, scored three runs and added a sacrifice fly. He doubled in a three-run first inning and again in the third, scoring both times.
Batting sixth in the lineup, Detering homered, doubled, singled and drove in five runs.
“It’s nice to see us put it all together,” said Spaudling, who also made several sparkling plays in centerfield.
Spaulding credited Borkey for the strategy employed in the seventh inning.
“That’s all coaching right there,” Spaulding said. “He did a great job of knowing the situation, understanding when to use ‘small ball’ and when to go for it all.”
Borkey went for it all with Detering at the plate in the eighth, allowing his left-handed slugger to swing away on a 3-0 count with Spaulding and Valentine on base.
The result was a long home run that rolled up against the roller hockey rink near the Roxbury Bandshell.
“It was 3-and-0 and he gave me the green light,” Detering said. “I was looking for a fastball, middle in, and got it.”
“That was a 3-and-0 pitch, and he looked down at me (coaching third), knowing I hate when people swing 3-and-0,” Borkey said.
“But I said, ‘Go ahead.’ ”
Altoona’s Lennox Pugh crushed a grand slam in the fourth that briefly tied the game at 4-4 before the Cleveland bats came back to life.
“I thought the momentum was swinging our way after the home run,” Altoona Manager Craig Treese said. “But give that (Cleveland) team credit for taking advantage of their opportunities.”
Left-fielder Frank Montecalvo doubled, singled twice and scored a run for Johnston. Pugh scored a pair of runs – the second in ninth when he walked and moved to third on two errors ahead of Tyler Treese’s sacrifice fly to left.
“We thought we had a team that would compete here,” Craig Treese said. “But we made too many mistakes in the field. When you give teams three or four outs in an inning, those good teams will take advantage of that. And we didn’t hit quite as consistently as we needed to.”
Cleveland piled up 28 runs in three games – a 6-2 win over New York and a 10-8 loss to New Brunswick before Wednesday’s two-touchdown performance.
Spaulding said the game plan was not complicated.
“You just want to look for a fastball on the inside half of the zone and try to hit it hard,” he said, “and lay off the pitcher’s pitches.”
And, just for fun, through some in some burners who can bunt – just to keep the other team guessing.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat and TribDem.com, and CNHI regional editor for Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio. He can be reached at 814-532-5091. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.