Generals Walk-off With Sharks' Fin
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 22, 2014, 16:56
Jerrod Groves is mobbed by teammates after recording the game-winning hit.
PETERSBURG — Momentum is fleeting in baseball and following two consecutive wins for the first time in 16 days, it looked like it had run out for the Generals. Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the eighth, Petersburg had runners on first and third with two outs after Jeremy Wolf beat out a possible double-play ground ball.
Wolf's hustle proved to be a critical point in the game as it gave Thomas Stallings a chance to bat in a key situation. The Virginia Military Institute product took the first-pitch from Wilmington's William Shepley for a strike before lacing an opposite-field, game-tying two-run double. But the Generals were not yet done with the late-game dramatics.
Following Spencer Wilmes' scoreless ninth inning on the mound — it was just his fourth appearance this season — Geremy Walton led off the bottom half of the ninth with a 3-2 line-drive single up the middle to set the stage for a dramatic-ending. Generals manager Daniel Wood immediately went to his bench and sent Ryan Owens to the plate to pinch-hit for Greg Turlik who was 0-for-2 on the afternoon.
Owens stepped into the box, looked down the third base line for a sign and wasted no time in sacrificing Walton to second with a perfectly placed bunt. With a runner in scoring position, the No. 8 hitter Justin Novak took a 1-1 offering into right-field for an opposite-field single, putting runners at the corners for pinch-hitter Jerrod Groves.
The Concord University product has had his clutch moments this season for the Generals, but he delivered his biggest one yet, fighting off an inside fastball to send a slow-roller toward second which scored Walton, sending the Petersburg bench into delirium following a walk-off 3-2 victory.
The walk-off, the Generals' first of the season, marked the third-straight victory for a team which is playing its best baseball of the season over the last week, giving hope for a strong finish.
"They did a hell of a job staying with it all day," Wood said of his team's ability to mount a comeback. "Stallings comes up with a big hit in the 8th, squared it up to tie the game and Jeremy having a good jump off first to score was huge. Spencer came in, he's not really a pitcher, and forced contact to keep the score right there ... Fantastic at-bat by Justin by not trying to do too much and Jerrod came up there knowing the situation. He just tried to hit one up the middle and with Geremy's speed, that's a wrap."
Colin Bigelow gutted his way through five scoreless innings in the win.
However, if it wasn't for the way Colin Bigelow gutted his way through five innings on the hill, the Generals (5-11, 12-32) may not have had a chance to launch a comeback win. As easy as the game seemed for Dylan Collett Monday night, it was that difficult for Bigelow.
It was apparent the Southern Virginia product did not possess his trademark control and it would be a battle right from the opening frame. The right-hander walked the Sharks' (7-11, 20-26) lead-off batter before plunking the No. 2 hitter to start the contest. But Bigelow regrouped from there, inducing a fly-out, strikeout and a force-out to end the inning. It was more of the same in the 2nd before he sandwiched a strikeout in between two groundouts to escape unscathed.
But no escape was more impressive than in the fifth inning when Bigelow walked the bases loaded with no one out. Following a visit from pitching coach Matt Laney, Bigelow froze Michael Montville on a knee-buckling curve-ball that swiped the corner. Then, he induced an inning-ending 5-2-3 double-play, completing five scoreless to set the tone.
"Colin's a workhorse and he puts in the time between starts and to see him come out without his best stuff and grind through it was huge," Wood said of Bigelow's 5-inning, two-hit and four-strikeout outing. "I think Colin set the tone as far as the focus we needed to win this game."
While Bigelow set the tone, it was Stallings who hammered down the exclamation point. When the situation looked bleak, Stallings delivered with his signature moment of the season. However, it was not a surprise the Generals' first baseman recorded the clutch-hit.
Justin Novak's single in the 9th inning set the stage for Groves' heroics.
In fact, after Stallings had gone hitless over two games last week, he has responded to go 3-for-6 over his last two with all three hits coming in the extra-base variety. The 5-foot-10 rising senior at VMI has been a consistent middle-of-the-order hitter for the Generals all season, batting .239 with nine doubles and 15 RBIs, making his game-tying hit just the latest one in a season full of them.
"He's a great kid and he comes from a fantastic program at VMI," Wood said. "He works his tail at and one thing I think he's done a great job of all year is just staying consistent in his approach. He knows what he can do and not try to do too much and he was able to get hits foot down on time and let the barrel fly."
Much like Stallings, the Generals are letting it fly late in the season, continuing their recent surge with clutch hits and dominant pitching performances. It's allowed them to win three-straight games, keeping their dim playoff hopes alive and shocking Coastal Plain League opponents.