E.A. Sports Today

Show of power

Choccolocco Monsters open home-and-home series with Columbus with eventful 12-9 victory; teams play at Choccolocco Park Saturday

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

COLUMBUS, Ga. — The Choccolocco Monsters won their most eventful game of the season Friday night, coming from behind twice, scoring eight straight runs at one stretch and putting together several historically significant performances to beat the Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots, 12-9. 

The talking points were plentiful after the 3-hour, 43-minute marathon.

Next: Saturday vs. Columbus, 6:05 p.m., WVOK-FM (97.9)

The Monsters (5-8) tied their season high for runs and came within one of tying their season high for hits. Nate Shipley hit the first official home run in franchise history and was among six players with multiple hits. Weston Kirk gave the Monsters his best pitching performance of the season and Daniel Swatek recorded a four-out save.

“It was (an eventful game),” manager Steve Gillispie said. “We came out and punched them in the nose and jumped out ahead and then fell behind, and not just barely fell behind, but we just kept playing and doing the things necessary to get runs in.

“Offensively it was a pretty good night. Defensively we were pretty clean. Weston Kirk was kind of the star of the game. He steadied the ship and threw up three zeroes and gave us a chance to chip away and tie it and once we took the lead adding to it. There were a lot of really good things. They were eventful, but it was some pretty sound baseball.”

Shipley has wielded a hot bat since offering to help the team as a hitter after feeling some discomfort in his pitching elbow. He hit the first regular-season homer in franchise history when he led off the third inning to tie the game 3-3.

The ball left the yard in just about the same place catcher Jake Spivey homered in the exhibition series with the Hoots, bouncing off the concrete cap before going over the wall. It was also about the same place Columbus’ Cooper Krause hit his three-run homer off starter Harris Burns in the second inning to give the Hoots a 3-2 lead.

The Monsters were the last team in the Sunbelt Baseball League to hit a homer this season.

“I wasn’t too worried, because I think we’ve got some guys who can do it,” Gillispie said. “There are going to be several firsts in that inaugural year, things that are the first and that was one of them.

“They were talking about it in the dugout that it was the first Monster Mash. It was good to see that after not putting up any runs on Wednesday to turn back around against a team that’s been kind of known for their pitching staff.”

Shipley went 3-for-5 to raise his season average to .500; he’s 9-for-15 since June 18. Brandon Prince extended his hitting streak to nine games with two hits and three RBIs. J.J. Rapp, Brennan McCullough, Brant Deerman and Josh Cooper had two hits apiece. McCullough reached base all five times he batted — in four different ways.

The Monsters trailed 3-2 in the second and 7-4 in the fourth, then scored eight straight runs over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to take control of the game. Prince tied the game 7-7 with a two-run double in the sixth and then scored the go-ahead run on Rapp’s chopper to second.

Kirk was the biggest beneficiary of the eruption. He enjoyed his best and longest outing on the mound since joining the Monsters. He went through the Hoots’ lineup once, pitching three shutout innings and giving up three hits, to cut his ERA in half and get his first win.

“He’s ultra-competitive and there was nobody more disappointed the other night when he didn’t have a very good night (eight runs in the ninth against the Atlanta Crackers) than he was,” Gillispie said. “He apologized to me. I was like, hey, it wasn’t all that bad; I left you out there to kind of wear it a little bit because of the way it went. He was really feeling it. He was really good tonight.”

Swatek followed reliever A.J. Jarrell and closed the game with a four-out save. The last time he was put in that situation, last Friday against the Crackers, he didn’t get an out in the ninth inning and was charged with eight runs. On this night, he returned to his shutdown self, retiring four of the five batters he faced and struck out the side in the ninth.

“He bounced back,” Gillispie said. “Swatek, Kirk, Jarrell all really rebounded and kind of flushed the negative they had experienced and went out and really had a pretty good night.”

There was a little weird element to the game. The reason Burns drew the start is because scheduled starter Brock Hill’s GPS sent him towards Columbus, Miss., from his home in Chelsea. It wasn’t until somewhere near the Mercedes plant in Vance – about 175 miles from the game – that he realized he was going in the wrong direction.

Not to worry. The South Alabama right-hander quickly turned around and made it to Golden Park about 15 minutes before first pitch, but by then Gillispie had Burns prepped for his first start. Hill entered the game with two outs in the second and pitched through the fourth before yielding to Kirk.

All five of the Monsters wins this season have come on the road. They’ll look to get their first win at home in Saturday’s return game with the Hoots

With no game until Friday due to the Prospect Game break, Gillispie will throw his five most consistent arms at the Hoots – Will Griffith, Garrett Telaga, newcomer Alexander McKay, left-hander David Cherwonuk and Swatek.

If they do win, they’ll take a 3-1 lead in the run for the Ignite Cup with their sister team and pull into a share of the West Division going into the break.

“I’m excited about tomorrow,” Gillispie said. “It’ll be a good measure on the second half. It’s been a great atmosphere every night we played, we just haven’t come out on top. I think everybody would like to see us get that win, especially with the game honoring the people (first responders) who are coming for that special night.”

Choccolocco   201 104 310 – 12 14 1
Columbus        030 400 020 –   9 15 4
WP: Weston Kirk (1-1). LP: Trey Sanders (0-2). 2B: Brandon Prince (Ch), Conner O’Neal 2 (Co), Nico Senese (Co), Bryce Newman (Co), Cooper Krause (Co). HR: Nate Shipley (Ch), Cooper Krause (Co).

Sunbelt Baseball League standings

Gainesville GolDiggers113.786
Waleska Wild Things74.6362.5
Alpharetta Aviators310.2317.5
Atlanta Crackers84.667
Brookhaven Bucks66.5002
Atlanta Blues78.4672.5
Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots67.462
Choccolocco Monsters58.3871
Gwinnett Astros47.3641

Friday’s Games
Atlanta Blues 2, Brookhaven 1
Gainesville 12, Alpharetta 10
Choccolocco 12, Columbus 9
Waleska 11, Gwinnett 10

Saturday’s Games
Waleska at Atlanta Crackers, 1:05 p.m.
Alpharetta at Gainesville, 5:35 p.m.
Brookhaven at Atlanta Blues, 6:05 p.m.
Columbus at Choccolocco, 6:05 p.m.

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