HIGH POINT, N.C. – Justin Nicolino admitted that anything short of having his arm fall off and he would not leave the game.
And that’s exactly the way High Point’s starting pitcher made it through seven nearly scoreless innings during a 3-1 Rockers victory over the Long Island Ducks on Tuesday night at Truist Point.
Nicolino (2-0) came to the foul line early in the game, suffering from a blister that was bleeding but not affecting his pitching. In fact, he had opened a cut on top of his thumb that was being aggravated by the nail on his index finger when he threw his cutter.
But that was the only time all night that Nicolino was out of rhythm, holding the Ducks, the best-hitting team in the Atlantic League, to just five hits and a single run in earning his second win of the season.
In fact Nicolino was so in rhythm that the game took just 2 hours and 17 minutes.
“I didn’t have my best stuff. I was just pitching,” said the three-year Major League veteran. “But I didn’t have to tonight. The defense was really working for me.”
The Rockers got on the board early when Michael Russell led off the game with a single, stole second, and scored on Zander Wiel’s two-run homer to left. The next batter, designated hitter Quincy Latimore, made it back-to-back blasts with his own shot to left.
That was it for the Rockers’ scoring. Nicolino allowed a run in the second when his only walk of the game came to L.J. Mazzilli leading off the second. After Mazzilli stole second, he scored on a single by Sam Travis.
“We got up early and we just settled in,” said Rockers manager Jamie Keefe. “The ball came out of Justin’s hand really well tonight. And tip your cap to Long Island. They threw the ball great as well.”
The Ducks entered the game with a .315 batting average, the best in the Atlantic League. Nicolino was aware of that.
Nicolino and fellow Rocker Jay Gonzalez were youth teammates in Orlando for several years as pre-teens but they had not played together in over a dozen years.
“It was like told times,” said Nicolino. “Jay and I talked and I was just going to throw it up there and let Jay catch it.” Gonzalez finished with five putouts, snagging every fly ball hit to right.
Center fielder Johnny Field turned in his own highlight play, making a dazzling over the shoulder catch in deep center with nobody out in the eighth, robbing Deven Marrero of extra bases.
The win improves the Rockers to 8-3 on the season while the Ducks fall to 5-5. Long Island starter Brett Kennedy (0-1) took the loss despite allowing just four hits and striking out five over his six innings of work.
The two teams will meet in the second game of the three-game series on Wednesday night at 6:35 p.m. at Truist Point.