WALDORF, Md. – The High Point Rockers took a massive step forward in their fight to win the Atlantic League’s South Division first half championship with a 6-2 win at Southern Maryland on Wednesday night. The Rockers’ victory, coupled with a Gastonia loss, leaves High Point one game behind the Honey Hunters with a looming meeting on Friday night at Truist Point.
Gastonia fell at Spire City 18-8 and the Honey Hunters are now 41-20 on the season. Wednesday’s win leaves the Rockers at 40-21. Each team has two games remaining on the first half schedule. If High Point wins its final two games of the half, it will claim the first half championship and secure a postseason playoff berth.
For Zander Wiel, the game was a welcome relief for the Rockers slugger who had managed just five hits over the last 11 games. Wiel went three-for-four with an RBI double in the first, a solo homer in the third, a single in the seventh and a walk in the ninth.
High Point went on the attack offensively right from the very start. After Shed Long, Jr. popped out to lead-off the game, Ryan Grotjohn singled and scored on a double by Wiel. Ben Aklinski singled to plate Wiel and give the Rockers a 2-0 lead. After a Brian Parreira single, Michael Martinez slapped another base hit to score Aklinski. Emmanuel Tapia followed with a fourth straight hit, a double to right that plated Parreira though Martinez was thrown out at the plate. When the smoke settled, High Point held a 4-0 lead.
Wiel blasted a solo homer leading off the third, his 16th homer of the season, to put the Rockers up 5-0.
The Blue Crabs managed their first run in the third when Jack Sundberg doubled and scored on a single by Philip Caulfield.
High Point starter Justin Nicolino (W, 1-0) went five innings and held So. Maryland to four hits while walking two and striking out seven. He departed after walking Khalil Lee to start the sixth and allowed a single to Braxton Lee. A.J. Cole was summoned from the bullpen and walked K.C. Hobson to load the bases. Alex Crosby ripped a line drive that was snagged by Long, Jr. who was able to toss to Grotjohn at second for a double play. Ryan Haug then hit a flare to left to bring in the Blue Crabs’ second run and the Rockers held a 5-2 lead. Cole then struck out Isaias Quiroz to get out of the inning.
Lefty Sam Selman allowed a pair of walks in the seventh but struck out two while Cam Bedrosian struck out the side in the eighth for the Rockers.
High Point added a run in the top of the ninth for a 6-2 lead. Daikan Yoh hit a sac fly to score Long, Jr. who had reached base with a single. Ryan Dull then set down the Blue Crabs in the ninth to secure the win.
The third and final game of the series is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. Thursday night at Regency Furniture Stadium. A win by the Rockers guarantees they will play for a championship on Friday night at home. The game will be streamed live on FLO Baseball and also available on the Mixlr app.
NOTES: Zander Wiel’s homer was the 48th of his Rockers career and ties him with Quincy Latimore for the franchise career record. Wiel needed 176 games and 617 at-bats to hit 48. Latimore did it in 266 games and 905 at-bats . . . High Point has recorded its second 40-win half-season in club history. The Rockers were 41-30 in the first half of the 2019 season… High Point has not won a half-season championship though they have finished second three times . . . Shed Long, Jr. reached base for the 27th consecutive game, the second-longest active streak in the Atlantic League.