GASTONIA, N.C. – Oh, what a difference 24 hours can make.
A day after dropping a 12-1 decision in the opening game of the Atlantic League’s South Division Championship series, the High Point Rockers bounced back with a decisive 11-4 win over the Gastonia Honey Hunters at CaroMont Health Park in Gastonia on Wednesday night.
The best-of-five series now shifts to Truist Point where the Rockers will be home for the next two games on Friday and Saturday and, if necessary, a critical Game Five on Sunday.
Rockers first baseman Logan Morrison on Wednesday night exhibited the same offensive ability he showed in 2017 when he finished fifth in the American League with 38 home runs for Tampa Bay. Morrison slammed a three-run homer and a grand slam to pace the Rockers in the Game Two win. His seven RBI are the most-ever by a Rocker in a postseason game.
But Morrison received plenty of help from Michael Russell, who had three hits including a homer, and Jerry Downs and Quincy Latimore who were on base for each of Morrison’s homers.
“Craig Stem and (catcher) Mike Gulino have been outstanding all year. We had a plan and we stuck to it,” said Rockers manager Jamie Keefe. “Obviously, LoMo had a pretty decent day. And when guys like Quincy (Latimore) and Jerry (Downs) get on base in front of him, good things happen. We wanted to take one down here and now we go home and play three. That’s all we could ask for.”
The Rockers were on the offensive from the third pitch of the game as Russell was hit by that pitch. Ben Aklinski reached on a fielder’s choice before Downs singled to left. Latimore then brought Aklinski around to score with a double before Morrison unloaded his first homer to put High Point up 4-0.
Gastonia’s Jake Skole singled home a pair of runs in the bottom of the first to draw the Honey Hunters with 4-2. But Russell got one run back with his solo homer in the second, staking High Point to a 5-2 lead.
In the third, High Point starter Craig Stem (W, 1-0) ran into a jam as he allowed a double by Reece Hampton then issued walks to Jack Reinhimer and Joseph Rosa. Another walk to Zach Jarrett forced in a run to cut High Point’s lead to 5-3. But Stem got Skole to pop out and Luis Castro grounded into a double play to escape the frame.
In the fifth, Morrison instigated another High Point rally. He singled with one out and Zander Wiel followed with another single. After a walk by Tyler Ladendorf loaded the bases, Michael Martinez drilled a two-run single to left as the Rockers went up 7-3.
The Rockers put the offense in full gear in the sixth. Russell singled to open the frame, and Downs and Latimore drew walks to load the bases for Morrison who hit the grand slam to right center for an 11-3 lead.
Skole smashed a solo homer in the bottom of the eighth to cut High Point’s lead to 11-4.
Stem went 5.2 innings and allowed five hits and three runs while striking out six and walking an uncharacteristic six. Bryce Hensley came on in the sixth.
Game Three is slated for Truist Point on Friday night at 6:35 p.m. with the Rockers sending Mitch Atkins (3-0, 3.91) against Gastonia’s Gunnar Kines (1-0, 3.86). Game Four will be at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday and, if necessary, Game Five would be at 4:05 p.m. on Sunday at Truist Point.
NOTES: The win marked High Point’s first-ever postseason win. The Rockers were swept in three games by Long Island in 2019. Craig Stem became the first pitcher in Rockers history to win a postseason game.