by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats are playing something close to sudden-death baseball as they play the finale of their five-game home series against the Montgomery Biscuits.
The Mudcats, the worst team in the Southern League in the first half, trail the first-place Chattanooga Lookouts by 6 ½ games in the North Division. And tomorrow will present the proverbial golden opportunity, as the Mudcats are preparing to leave for a five-game series with the Lookouts beginning Tuesday.
Montgomery is second to the in-state rival Mobile Bay Bears in the South Division, but the deficit is nine games with 21 to play.
The Mudcats hit hard early and hold on, winning 6-5 to take the set 3 games to 2 and move to within six games headed into the must-win series.
The Biscuits draw first blood with a run in the first, as Lee Hak-Ju leads off with a triple and scores on a double-play ball.
But the Mudcats take control of things in the bottom of the frame. Neftali Soto brings home the first run with a single, and then Eric Campbell’s two-out, three-run homer makes it 4-1.
Montgomery adds a run in the second on John Shelby’s homer to left, but the Mudcats stretch it to 5-2 with another run in the third after both the Biscuits’ Cole Figueroa and manager Billy Gardner are ejected in the top of the inning.
The Biscuits then make it 5-3 in the seventh as Isaias Velasquez hits a one-out triple and former Durham Bull Craig Albernaz brings him home with a grounder.
After Justin Freeman comes out of the bullpen to get the Mudcats out of serious trouble in the top of the eighth, the Mudcats scratch out another run in the bottom.
Then in the ninth with a 6-3 lead, Tim Hamulack comes on to get Freeman out of trouble after a Lee homer, but only one more run comes across on an error and the Mudcats hold on.
Quintin Berry chips in a double and a single for the Mudcats, who also get a pair of hits from Cody Puckett. Shawn O’Malley triples, doubles and singles for Montgomery.
They said it …
Mudcats manager David Bell: “This one was huge. It’s a lot of fun playing games like this. We really have to go out and win every single game. It’s fun, but that’s the way you should play the game anyway. We’re going into a big series at Chattanooga, and we just have to go out and so everything we can to win.”
Campbell: “(On the homer) he came with a first-pitch cutter down, then a fastball for a strike away, then he left a changeup a little bit up and in and I just put a good swing on it. … We’ve got to go and take care of business in Chattanooga if we’ve got any chance. We know we’ve got to win pretty much every game from here on out.”
Hamulack: “I felt better. Baseball’s crazy. You never know what’s going to happen every time you throw a ball. I just kind of lucked out. I didn’t have a lot of time to get ready, but everything worked out.”
What does it all mean?
That by winning the next series, the Mudcats could put some pressure of their own on the division leaders.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Mudcats: Won 3.
Montgomery: Lost 3.
Mudcats (James Avery 5-11, 4.55) at Chattanooga (Stephen Fife 2-0, n 1.64)