Coming into the night, Tri-City had balked twice — both by right-hander Huntley Hacker — and after Sunday, it now leads the Coastal Plain League in that category.
Peninsula (5-0) defeated the Chili Peppers (2-5) at War Memorial Stadium on a walk-off balk — lefty Elijah Parks’ second of the inning — forced by redshirt freshman designated hitter Alden Mathes.
“If you’re going to have a great year, you have to win a lot of different ways,” head coach Hank Morgan said. “Sometimes that means coming from behind, so it’s really awesome that they feel that way.”
Mathes led off the inning getting clipped with a Parks fastball on the forearm, advancing to second on a flare single from redshirt junior first baseman Hunter Hart that he dumped into center field.
Parks then flinched for the first time, stopping his fluid motion of coming up into his set position, advancing both runners to second and third. The Chili Peppers elected to walk sophomore third baseman Mason Dunaway to open up the force out at home plate.
After redshirt freshman Trey Morgan took a strike, laced a foul ball down the first base line and took a ball, his at-bat was over.
Parks got his sign and came set as Mathes broke into a dead sprint, stopping on a dime after a 20-foot charge toward home. Tri-City catcher Cole Christman stood up out of his crouch assuming Mathes was going to continue his dash to the plate, forcing a slight twitch in Parks’ knees, resulting in the game-winning run scoring on his second balk of the inning.
“I knew he balked two pitches before, three pitches before, I was just trying to get him to do it again and he did,” Mathes said. “It’s pretty cool. First time I’ve seen a walk-off balk in a while.”
Morgan said that was a testament to Mathes’ heads-up nature when he’s on the field. The Broomall, Pennsylvania, native scored three of Peninsula’s six runs on the night.
“That’s just Mathes being a competitor, trying to see what he can do,” Morgan said. “He’s got the left-hander’s back turned to him over there and seeing if he can get a reaction.”
With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the third inning, Tri-City got a leadoff double from freshman center fielder Carson Jones and an RBI single from redshirt sophomore right fielder Wilson Galvan.
The two-run inning was capped off with a double to the left-center field gap from second baseman Ben Williamson to give them a 3-1 lead, but the Pilots responded for four unanswered runs.
In the bottom of the third, Mathes led off the inning with his first hit of the night, coming around to score on a groundout to shortstop from Dunaway.
Dunaway, oddly, had two RBI groundouts Sunday with his first run-producing bouncer coming in the first inning.
“Very unselfish approach at the plate in key situations where we had a chance to score runners, move somebody and he executed every time,” Morgan said. “Whatever the stat line is, who cares? We cashed runs right there and that’s the kind of player he is: understands the game, knows what needs to be done.”
The Pilots manufactured a pair of runs in the fourth after a slow, five-foot chopper from redshirt freshman Zac Morris, beating out Tri-City left-handed pitcher Logan Ross’ turn-and-jump throw to first.
Morris stole second, scoring on redshirt sophomore left fielder Trevon Dabney’s third double of the 2021 campaign to tie the game 3-3.
Sophomore catcher Copper Hansen — who made his Pilots debut Sunday — gave Peninsula its first lead of the game, picking up an RBI on a fielder’s choice, plating Dabney from third.
Peninsula’s fifth run of the game came in the fifth frame when Hart collected his second single on a line-drive single to right field that dropped just feet in front of Galvan.
Hart — playing in his second game of 2021 after managing 31 at-bats a season ago — finished the night 3-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI.
“This team’s gritty, man. We like to play small ball, we don’t strike out a lot,” Mathes said. “Fun to play for. Coaches are fun to play for, players are fun to play with and we’re just getting started.”
The Pilots will look to extend their five-game winning streak in their first road game of the season as they will make the 2-hour, 40-minute drive to Wilson, North Carolina to take on the Tobs at Fleming Stadium Tuesday at 7 p.m.