The Coastal Plain League’s International Tie-Breaker rule placed runners on first and second in the 10th inning for both teams — the Chili Peppers did not advance in the top half and the Pilots won on one pitch in the bottom half.
Peninsula (22-8, 5-3 second half) walked it off for the fourth time this season — and second against Tri-City (6-21, 2-5 second half) — winning 4-3 on center fielder Trey Morgan’s walk-off sacrifice bunt coupled with an error on the pitcher.
“When they had that early crash defense on, it was really brilliant of him to decide to bunt the ball to the pitcher,” manager Hank Morgan said. “Because of the three people that are going to field that ball, he’s the least-qualified defender.”
Coming into that at-bat, Trey Morgan was 1-for-3 with his only hit coincidentally coming on a bunt single in the third inning to load the bases.
The Hampton, Virginia, native is no stranger to dropping down bunts as he has already had a handful of free singles coupled with a sacrifice bunt on the season, and, when the time came, he collected his second.
Tri-City left-hander Elijah Parks — who balked twice to gift-wrap Peninsula’s June 6 walk-off win — trotted out for his third inning of relief with first baseman Justin Starke and left fielder Erik Stock getting placed on first and second base, respectively.
Parks threw a fastball that Trey Morgan pushed directly back to him. He fielded the ball cleanly, but committed his second error of 2021 by air-mailing his throw to third in an attempt to nab the lead runner in Stock — who trotted home and touched home plate with a single index finger.
“Early on in the game, I struggled a little bit putting the ball in play. I struck out in the seventh with a runner on third,” Trey Morgan said. “My dad (Hank Morgan) came in the locker room, talked to me and said to me, ‘you know, you’re going to have another opportunity here, maybe with a tied game here in the ninth and you might have to do something for the team.’”
Peninsula’s offense sputtered in the early going, failing to push runs across by stranding the bases loaded in the third inning.
Stock left off the third, chopping a ball up the middle that squirted underneath shortstop Casey Harford’s glove, advancing on the error. Stock took off on a 1-0 pitch and first baseman Justin Starke chopped a ball to the four-hole that second baseman Eliot Dix — who was making his Tri-City debut after 23 games with Martinsville — could not handle.
After Trey Morgan’s bunt single and the bases juiced, Pilots shortstop Logan Steenstra grounded into a double play to end the threat.
Peninsula could not break through until the fifth when Starke hit his second sacrifice fly of the season, scoring right fielder Alden Mathes — who led off the inning with a single to right — to trim it to a 3-1 deficit.
In the eighth, Mathes tied the ballgame on a two-out, two-RBI groundball-with-eyes single that sneaked by Dix and found its way into right field, plating designated hitter Carson DeMartini and second baseman Jack Dragum.
The Chili Peppers jumped on Carmine Poppiti early, singling on the first pitch from the James Madison right hander.
Poppiti responded by inducing a sky-high pop out to Steenstra, but left fielder Willie Havens launched a two-run home run over the wall in right-center field despite center fielder Trey Morgan’s outstanding wall-climbing effort.
The Marydel, Maryland, native retired the next seven Chili Peppers in a row into two outs into the third before allowing a walk and single.
In the fourth, though, first baseman Hunter Gilliam led off with a sharp single to right field followed by Dix roping an RBI single to push the Chili Peppers’ lead to 3-0 after the top of the fourth — the final runs they would score on the night.
Right-handers Lliam Grubbs and Chris Ludman — whose role has shifted from starting pitcher to closer — combined for five scoreless innings, allowing just four hits while striking out four and walking none to preserve the win.
“We’ve been looking a little sluggish these last couple games out and, hopefully, this will fire something up for us,” Trey Morgan said.
With the victory, Peninsula moves to 11-3 against the Chili Peppers this season and are 15-1 at War Memorial Stadium.
The Pilots head to Colonial Heights, Virginia Sunday to face off against Tri-City for the 14th time this season. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Shepherd Stadium, as the game will be broadcast live on FloSports and live stats will be available on www.pointstreak.com.