HIGH POINT, N.C. – Ben Aklinski lined a single to left with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth to lead the High Point Rockers to a 3-2 win over Gastonia on Sunday afternoon at Truist Point. The win forced a deciding Game 5 in the Atlantic League South Division Championship series as the series is tied at two games apiece. The winner of Monday’s game will advance to the ALPB League Championship series which begins at Lanaster, Pa. on Tuesday night.
Game 5 at Truist Point is scheduled for noon on Monday. Admission will be free and no tickets are necessary.
“We knew it was win or go home today,” said Aklinski. “Just got to get it done. Going through an at-bat late in the game, the main thing is just to hit strikes. So many times you see guys trying to do too much and swinging at pitches outside the zone. I just wanted to hit a strike and hit a fly ball. I told myself ‘You do not need to hit a home run right now. It would be cool but don’t even think about it. A 300-foot fly ball and you’ll be fine.’”
Brian Parreira led off the dramatic ninth inning with a bloop single to right. Nilo Rijo pinch-ran for Parreira at first and went to second on a single through the right side by D.J. Burt. After Steffon Moore (L, 1-1) induced a fly ball out from Shed Long, Jr., Ryan Grotjohn reached on a walk to load the bases. Gastonia turned to closer Graham Spraker as Aklinski lined the game-winning base hit into the alley in left-center, scoring Rijo and giving the Rockers the 3-2 win.
The game was tight throughout with neither team scoring in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings.
Braxton Davidson homered off High Point starter Brandon Leibrandt to lead-off the top of the second and give Gastonia an early 1-0 lead.
High Point tied the game when Long, Jr. started the third inning with a walk. After stealing second, he moved to third on a long fly ball by Grotjohn for the first out of the inning. Aklinski followed with a double to score Long, Jr. and tie the game at 1-1.
Gastonia took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when David Washington singled, moved to second on a sac bunt by Kevin Santa and scored on a single to left by Jake Hoover. The Rockers answered right back in the bottom half of the fifth as Grotjohn hit a solo homer to right to tie the game at 2-2.
Gastonia starter Sal Romano went four innings and allowed five hits with one walk and two strikeouts. Lefty Grant Larson pitched the fifth and sixth and left with one on and one out in the seventh. Moore entered the game with one out in the eighth and struck out Beau Taylor and Michael Martinez to end the inning and keep the game tied at 2-2.
Leibrandt hurled seven strong innings, spreading out seven hits while walking one and striking out five. Ryan Dull kept the Honey Hunters scoreless in the eighth and Jameson McGrane (W, 2-0) pitched around one base hit in the ninth to earn the win.
“That’s a helluva team over there,” said Rockers manager Jamie Keefe of the Honey Hunters. “We knew how this game was going to go down and who it would come down to. That’s who we are. (Aklinski) is going to put the ball in play and he’s probably going to hit it in the air. I don’t know how else to say it, that’s just who we are. The heart attack kids. We’re going to give you everything we’ve got and you’ve got to get 27 outs.”
Game 5 will start at noon on Monday, September 25 at Truist Point. The game will be streamed live on FLO Baseball and also available on the Mixlr app.