HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point Rockers used a six-run outburst in the third inning to take an 8-5 win over Gastonia on Friday night in front of 2,592 fans at Truist Point. The win came in the opening game of a three-game weekend series.
High Point’s Zander Wiel and Ben Aklinski hit back-to-back homers in the third as the Rockers used a walk and five consecutive hits, three for extra bases, to build their 6-0 lead
The game was scoreless until the Rockers blew up in the bottom of the third. D.J. Burt started the rally by receiving a lead-off walk. After Gastonia starter Zach Godley (L, 0-2) struck out John Daly, Michael Russell singled to put runners on the corners. Both scored on Beau Taylor’s double into the right field corner. John Nogowski then beat out an infield hit before Wiel cleared the bases with a three-run blast to left, his third homer of the year. Aklinski immediately followed with a solo shot, his fourth of the season to give the Rockers a 6-0 lead.
High Point starter Neil Ramirez was cruising along with the game well in hand, striking out five and allowing just one hit. But after J.C. Escarra flew out to start the fourth, Ramirez came out of the game with some discomfort in his shoulder. Jeremy Rhoades came on in relief and put down the Honey Hunters in the fourth.
“Part of it was that Neil came out right after that long inning,” said Rockers manager Jamie Keefe. “Everything’s fine. It’s been two years since he’s been a starter. We’re excited that he’s on our side.”
Ramirez allowed just one hit and struck out five in his 3.1 innings of work. Rhoades (W, 2-0) earned the win in relief.
The Honey Hunters got a run back in the top of the fifth when Steven Sensley hammered his third home run of the year well over the right field wall. Gastonia added another run in the sixth off reliever Bryce Hensley when Escarra doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Zach Jarrett.
John Nogowski continued his hot hitting, slapping a two-run single to center to give the Rockers an 8-2 lead and increasing his season RBI total to 20 as Burt and Daly both scored.
In the seventh, Gastonia’s Curtis Terry led off the inning with a single off Kyle Halbohn. Terry moved to third on a pair of ground outs before scoring on a wild pitch as Gastonia cut the Rockers’ lead to 8-3. Gabriel Castellanos allowed a pair of runs to Gastonia in the ninth before closing out the 8-5 win.
“This was a big game,” said Keefe. “Game one. Last year, we only won one of the first 12 games that we played them. These guys were a real thorn in our side last year and it was nice to get the first one at home. Being able to put the ball in play like we did tonight, that was more (the way we play) than the three days we were in Lexington.
“The crowd tonight was outstanding,” said Keefe. “It was beautiful. They made a lot of noise, and we were able to feed off that energy.”
The win opens a 2.5 game gap between High Point (12-2) and Gastonia (9-4) as the Rockers continue to hold onto first place in the Atlantic League’s South Division.
The Rockers and Honey Hunters will meet again on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. at Truist Point. The Rockers will send lefty Brandon Leibrandt (0-0, 1.08) to the mound to face Gastonia lefty Ian McKinney (0-1, 4.82). It will be Veterans Appreciation Night with all military veterans receiving four complimentary tickets by showing their military ID at the Truist Point Box Office.