Salina Stockade's ninth inning rally falls short against Trinidad Triggers
EL DORADO – The numbers Saturday night just didn’t give a fair appraisal.
The Salina Stockade, taking up residence in El Dorado on a temporary basis, couldn’t put a second straight game in the win column, but the 10-8 Pecos League setback was far from ordinary.
The Trinidad Triggers jumped to an early 5-0 lead, but no white flags of surrender were raised by the Stockade.
Instead, they chipped away at the deficit, and tied the score in the third inning on an opposite-field two-run homer by center fielder Canice Ejoh. An inning later, right fielder Jordan Anderson broke the 5-5 tie with a solo homer to left.
But the Triggers – who hit a scoring drought after the 5-0 outburst as Stockade starter Garrett Woll retired 13 in a row – broke through and retook the lead in the sixth on a three-run homer by center fielder Matt Harrison.
The Stockade threatened in all but one inning, and they had the tying run at the plate in the ninth.
“I’m going to be honest, that’s kind of been the story all year,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have a really good hitting team, but we tend to struggle with the pitching. These last few games, we’ve been getting better starting pitching and have been able to stay in these games. That’s really been big for us.”
By that time, Harrison and Triggers starting pitcher Yale Hughes had switched places. Harrison, who had struck out the side in the eighth, bobbled Jesus Grimaldo’s one out popup, and his throw to first to get Grimaldo was too late. Fitzpatrick walked, and one out later, Ejoh stepped to the plate and worked a full count, fouling off a number of Harrison’s pitches. He then sent a sharp line-drive double to left, driving in Grimaldo and Fitzpatrick for a four-RBI night and cutting the deficit to 10-8. A wild pitch moved Ejoh to third, but that was all the Stockade could muster.
It’s safe to say that there aren’t many 5-32 teams that compete up to the very end. When Harrison struck out the side in the eighth, that was the only time the Stockade went in order all night.
“Matt Harrison is one of the better arms in our division. He went out there for two innings to close the game, and we went out there and took it to him,” Fitzpatrick said. “That was a tremendous effort to go up against of the best arms in the division and give him a tough time.”
Conversely, Woll shut down the Triggers (17-22) in order in the third, fourth and fifth innings as well as getting them 1-2-3 in the second after they had scored twice.
“We got a really great effort from Woll, and that’s the kind of starting pitching that we need going forward,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Our offense is always going to keep us in games. When we get (good) starting pitching, we’re always going to have a chance to win, like we did (in Wednesday’s 6-5 victory).”
Ejoh is relatively new to the Stockade, having joined them in mid-June, shortly after the NCAA Division II World Series, where his college, Seton Hill of Greensburg, Pa., won its opening-round game but was eliminated by Angelo (Texas) State and eventual champion Wingate (N.C.). He finished with a batting average of .327.
A native of Canada, Ejoh already has completed his bachelor’s and is working on an MBA.
“I came pretty late (because of the D-II tournament), but the last few games we’ve been playing really well,” he said. “I think we’re confident 1-9 (in the batting order) and now we’re able to trust our pitchers to throw strikes and keep us in the game.”
Fitzpatrick said it was a stroke of good fortune to get Ejoh here.
“He’s really been huge,” Fitzpatrick said. “He gave me a call (after the D-II series), and I looked at his college numbers, and he did great in college this year. It was kind of a no-brainer to bring him in. Hopefully, he’s going to be playing baseball for a long time.”
Even though he only had one home run in his senior season, his blast Saturday left nothing in doubt, easily clearing the McDonald Stadium right-field fence.
After every home run, the Stockade pass a cap through the stands for dollar bills to be given to the player. When Ejoh received his, there were quite a few dropped onto home plate.
“That was the first time all year that we were able to do that,” he said, “so I know they’ve kind of been anticipating that. It was pretty cool.”
A scheduled day portion to the doubleheader was delayed because of weather and then canceled Saturday, and so the Triggers and Stockade will complete the series Sunday with two seven-inning games at 1:05 and (approximately) 4:05 p.m.
“It’s always tough not knowing when you’re going to play, but that’s just a special part of the game,” Ejoh said.
For right now, Ejoh said he’s just enjoying the moment and see where he goes after this season.
“I just want to play as long as I can,” he said. “I’m kind of riding through (the MBA program), so at least I’ll have that.”
Games are coming in rapid-fire fashion, with just three weeks remaining in the Pecos season, and getting improved pitching can lead the Stockade to a strong finish, Fitzpatrick said.
“We got in a huge hole because early on, I didn’t have the pitching,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot better in that aspect, the pitching has gotten a lot better, which is obviously keeping us in games.”