GASTONIA, N.C. – The Gastonia Honey Hunters scored four runs in the first three innings and withstood High Point’s ninth inning rally to even the Atlantic League South Division Championship series at one game apiece with a 5-2 win over High Point at CaroMont Health Park on Wednesday.
Trailing 5-0 entering the ninth inning, the Rockers were facing Gastonia closer Graham Spraker who came on in the ninth and retired the first two batters he faced before walking Daikan Yoh. Michael Martinez, swinging left handed against the right handed Spraker , then homered to deep right, making it a 5-2 game. Spraker walked D.J. Burt and Shed Long, Jr. to bring Ryan Grotjohn to the plate as the tying run. Gastonia manager Mauro Gozzo turned again to his bullpen, bringing in Bryan Blanton. Blanton walked Grotjohn to load the bases but then induced Ben Aklinski to fly out to center for the final out of the game.
“Any time you can get the tying or winning run to the plate, that’s all you’re trying to do,” said Rockers manager Jamie Keefe. “We were down the whole game. We couldn’t put anything together until the ninth inning. That’s one thing this team has shown time and time again is the ability to keep fighting. We just need to keep grinding.”
Gastonia built its 5-0 lead by scoring a run in each of the first three innings, tagging Rockers starter Justin Nicolino for four runs on eight hits. He left after the fifth inning, having walked one and struck out six.
Offensively, the Rockers were stymied by Gastonia starter Zach Mort who went seven innings and allowed five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. High Point did not advance a runner as far as third base until the seventh inning when Yoh walked then stole second and third but was stranded at the hot corner.
Gastonia shortstop Jack Reinheimer singled to lead off the bottom of the first, stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. He scored on Scott Manea’s single to right to give Gastonia a 1-0 lead.
In the second, first baseman David Washington hit a solo homer to left for a 2-0 Gastonia lead. The lead grew to 4-0 in the third when Zach Jarrett hit a solo homer and Manea scored on an Eric De La Rosa sac fly.
Jeremy Rhoades kept the Honey Hunters scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing one hit and striking out one.
High Point’s Sam Selman walked the bases loaded with one out in the eighth. But Selman induced a grounder to second where Long, Jr. fired to the plate for the force and the second out of the inning. Jake Hoover was hit by a pitch to force in a run and put Gastonia’s advantage at 5-0. Kyle Halbohn replaced Selman with the bases loaded and two outs and got a fly ball out from Reinheimer to escape further damage.
Nicolino took the loss for the Rockers while Mort picked up the win and Blanton the save.
The South Division will now swing to High Point and Truist Point. The Rockers will host the Honey Hunters in Game 3 on Friday at 6:35 p.m. at Truist Point. Tickets are available at the Truist Point Box Office or online at HighPointRockers.com. The game will be streamed live on FLO Baseball and also available on the Mixlr app.