The Pilots looked deflated after having used three pitchers to limp through the first five innings of the game, but, in typical War Memorial Stadium fashion, they were never out of Monday’s ballgame.
Peninsula (20-7, 3-2 second half) mounted another comeback victory over Tri-City (5-18, 1-2 second half) 7-6 behind three consecutive run-scoring innings to end the game, capped off by second baseman Ethan Hunter’s line-drive RBI single to right field. The rally marked the sixth time at War Memorial Stadium this season in which the Pilots came back to win after trailing by at least two runs.
“Earlier in the night I just hadn’t gotten the job done,” Hunter said. “I wanted to get a fastball, he threw one and I hit it.”
Peninsula shortstop Logan Steenstra led off the bottom of the eighth with a five-pitch walk, advancing around the bases in typical Peninsula fashion.
Next batter — third baseman Mason Dunaway — dropped a textbook sacrifice bunt up the first-base line to move Steenstra up to second with one out.
The Tennessee Volunteer stole third four pitches later — the second bag he’s swiped this season — paving the way for Hunter to dump a liner into shallow right field to give the Pilots a 7-6 lead, which was the first lead since the third inning.
“He’s been exemplary in terms of how he’s handled things and staying ready and working. He’s continued to work hard every day and it wasn’t unnoticed,” manager Hank Morgan said. “When a guy, you know, maintains a proud posture and demeanor and continues working hard, the baseball gods will typically reward him when you get another opportunity.”
The Pilots grabbed an early lead in the first, thanks to leadoff batter center fielder Trey Morgan doing his job and drawing his league-leading 21st walk of the season.
The Virginia Military Institute product advanced to second on a wild pitch, swiped his ninth bag when he stole third, scoring on a groundout to Tri-City second baseman Casey Harford.
The bottom of the second was much the same, moving station-to-station thanks to misfires from Chili Peppers right-hander Nick Zegna.
Steenstra nubbed a ball off the end of his bat to Zegna who attempted a soft lob to first, drawing first baseman Zack Beach off the bag.
Steenstra advanced to second on a wild pitch, moving to third on a groundout to shortstop before giving Peninsula a 2-0 lead on a fastball that got away from catcher Willie Havens — the third wild pitch of the game for Zegna.
The middle innings were rocky for the Pilots, though, after right-handed opener Marcus Olivarez went two innings, allowing just one hit, a walk while striking out Harford in the first.
Peninsula left-hander Jay Cassady cruised through his first inning of relief in the third frame, allowing a single to center field before retiring the side by snagging a screaming 93-mph line drive hit right back to him on the mound.
In the fourth, Cassady struck out the leadoff batter, but allowed the next five batters to reach on a hit, a walk, then three consecutive singles as the Chili Peppers took their first lead of the game 3-2.
All four hits in the Tri-City fourth inning came when Cassady was ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2.
In the fifth, Cassady surrendered a 357-foot line-drive home run to the visitor’s bullpen in left field and a double that one-hopped the wall in right field, ending his day.
The Burke, Virginia, native finished his two plus-inning relief outing getting shelled for seven hits and five earned runs, walking one while striking out five.
Righty Alex Hinton came on for his team-leading eighth appearance of the season, allowing a two-out single to Chili Peppers third baseman Logan Jarvis. Ahead in the count 1-2 with two outs, Hinton attempted to pick off the runner, but his throw skipped by Pilots first baseman Justin Starke to move Jarvis into scoring position.
That proved costly for the Wilmington University pitcher who allowed an RBI single on the next pitch — down in the books as Hinton’s only unearned run he allowed in his two-inning relief outing Monday — to push Tri-City’s lead to 6-2.
An inning and a half later, right fielder Alden Mathes began the Pilots’ comeback in an emphatic manner, blasting his third home run in the last two games — a majestic 351-foot high-arcing shot to Peninsula’s bullpen in the right-field corner to cut the deficit to 6-3.
His supporting cast — left fielder Erik Stock, Steenstra and Dunaway — followed suit with a double and two singles, respectively, to add another run and trim the Chili Peppers’ lead to 6-4.
After “Superfan Wayne” proclaimed for the team to get some runs during the seventh-inning stretch, the Pilots did just that as Trey Morgan and designated hitter Carson DeMartini both reached base on a single and a walk, respectively.
Trey Morgan scored on Mathes’ sacrifice fly, and DeMartini was plated on Stock’s second double of the night to left-center field, getting thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple but not before tying the game 6-6.
Stock finished his night 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, raising his average to .276 on the season.
The Pilots are back on the road Tuesday to face the Chili Peppers at 7 p.m. looking to avenge their 15-11 loss they suffered at Shepherd Stadium Saturday. Peninsula holds a 10-2 record against Tri-City in 2021.