HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point Rockers started the 2023 season with a win, defeating the Long Island Ducks 3-2 on Friday night in front of a crowd of 2,419 at Truist Point.
Rightfielder Ben Aklinski’s solo homer leading off the fourth inning broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Rockers their third Opening Day victory in four tries.
High Point starter Craig Stem and Long Island starter Brett Kennedy each allowed a first inning run as the Ducks’ centerfielder Boog Powell led off the game with a solo homer to right. The Rockers tied the game in their half when Michael Russell doubled, moved to third on a single by John Nogowski and scored on a wild pitch by Kennedy.
The top of the second inning ended when Long Island’s Luis Guerrero lined a shot back up the middle that hit Stem before the hurler was able to make the throw to first to retire the side.
But the liner forced Stem out of the game with a hand injury and Rockers manager Jamie Keefe had to go to the bullpen earlier than he planned.
The game was tied at 1-1 when rain brought it to a halt after one-and-a-half innings.
Following a 54-minute rain delay, the Ducks went ahead 2-1 in the third when Daniel Murphy singled and scored on a triple by Sam Travis. High Point tied the game at 2-2 when Shed Long, Jr. drew a one-out walk in the third, moved to third on Russell’s second double of the night and scored on a fielder’s choice by Zander Weil.
Aklinski led off the fourth with his homer and neither team would score the rest of the way as each club’s bullpens held the other scoreless over the final four innings.
Bryce Hensley earned the win with two innings of work, allowing three hits. Kyle Halbohn, Jeremy Rhoades, Cam Cotter and Jameson McGrane each tossed scoreless innings before Ryan Dull closed the game with a 1-2-3 inning in the ninth.
The save was Dull’s 14th of his career, breaking him out of a four-way tie and making him the Rockers’ all-time save leader.
“Stem’s a big question mark,” said Keefe following the game. “It doesn’t look good. We’ll talk to the team doctor in the morning and we’ll know more then.”
Russell finished the night with three hits including two doubles that extended his Rockers’ career record to 66 career doubles. Aklinski and catcher Beau Taylor each finished with a pair of hits. Long Island was led by Powell and Murphy, each of whom had three hits.
But the story was the bullpen. High Point’s relievers threw seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits and striking out five while walking three.
The Rockers will remain at home Saturday night when they again host the Ducks at 6:35 p.m. at Truist Point. High Point community leader Coy Williard will be honored at the game. Fans will be treated to a postgame fireworks show and tickets for Saturday’s game can be purchased online at HighPointRockers.com or at the Box Office. A four-for-$28 special will run through Saturday’s game with the use of the pass code COY.