HIGH POINT, N.C. – Gastonia broke an 8-8 tie in the sixth inning and scored the final three runs of the game in an 11-8 win over the High Point Rockers on Friday night in Game 3 of the Atlantic League South Division Championship series.
Like a heavyweight title fight, the two clubs traded blows throughout the first five innings. High Point received outstanding offensive performances from right fielder Ben Aklinski who slammed three extra base hits and drove in five runs, and second baseman Shed Long, Jr. who collected four hits on the night.
The loss gives Gastonia a 2-1 lead in the best of five series. Game 4 is slated for a 6:35 p.m. start on Saturday night at Truist Point. Lancaster defeated Long Island 7-2 on Friday night to sweep the Ducks and advance to the League Championship Series as the North Division champion.
The Honey Hunters were able to push across a run in the first to take a 1-0 lead. Jack Reinheimer reached on an infield single before Rockers starter Mickey Jannis walked Jason Rogers and Zach Jarrett to load the bases. Scott Manea grounded a ball up the middle which shortstop Ryan Grotjohn fielded and retired Manea at first as Reinheimer scored.
The Rockers bounced back in the second as lead-off hitter Long, Jr. lined the first pitch he saw back through the box for a single. Aklinski followed with a moon shot homer to left that appeared to want to hook foul if not for a strong left to right wind that held it fair to give the Rockers a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the second, the Honey Hunters used four hits and walk off Jannis, including a two-run triple from DH Jason Rogers, to score four times and take a 5-2 lead.
The Rockers turned to veteran starter Craig Stem to start the third and he retired Gastonia in order for the first time in the game. The Rockers quickly responded in the third with three runs to tie the game at 5-5. Grotjohn drew a leadoff walk from Gastonia starter Brett Daniels. Aklinski then lined a double off the center field wall to score Grotjohn. After Quincy Latimore struck out, Zander Wiel doubled home Aklinski and then Wiel came around on an RBI single from Daikan Yoh.
The Rockers continued their rally in the fourth. Long, Jr. singled and stole second ahead of a walk to Grotjohn. Aklinski then doubled, his third extra base hit of the game, scoring both runners to put High Point up 7-5.
In the top of the fifth, Braxton Davidson led off with a homer to pull Gastonia to within one at 7-6. Eric De La Rosa doubled and scored on a single by Kevin Santa to tie the game. Rogers followed with a single to score Santa and put Gastonia up 8-7.
The Rockers tied the game at 8-8 in the bottom of the fifth when Michael Martinez drew a walk from reliever Steffon Moore. When Moore threw over to first, Martinez took off for second and the throw bounced off first baseman David Washington’s glove and down the right field line. Martinez was able to motor all the way around to score to knot tie the game.
Gastonia forged a 9-8 lead in the top of the sixth on a walk to Manea. Pinch-runner Pedro Gonzalez moved to second on a wild pitch and took third on a single by Braxton Davidson before scoring on a double by De La Rosa.
In the top of the eighth, the Rockers brought on Jeremy Rhoades to start the inning. The first batter he faced, Zach Jarrett, hit a 106 MPH liner back to the mound, catching Rhoades in the nose. Sam Selman relieved and the first batter he faced, Manea, hit a homer and then stood at the plate for quite some time admiring his handiwork. That gave the Honey Hunters an 11-8 lead.
The Rockers were able to load the bases in the ninth off closer Graham Spraker before he was able to strike out Martinez, Brian Parreira and Long, Jr. for the final out of the game.
Saturday’s game four is scheduled for a 6:35 p.m. start at Truist Point. The game will be streamed live on FLO Baseball and also available on the Mixlr app.