E.A. Sports Today

Still coming up short

Choccolocco Monsters lead, fall behind, rally, but fall short in the ninth; start second half of season with 10-9 loss to Gwinnett

Monsters manager Steve Gillispie is none too pleased after debating an interference call with the home plate umpire early in Friday’s game. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – If Friday night was Tanner Martin’s last game with the Choccolocco Monsters, at least he can leave knowing he gave the team a chance.

The Monsters’ strapping outfielder from Hickory, N.C., knew when he signed the Fourth of July weekend was going to be his last with the club. It had nothing to do with how the team was doing on the field, it was always his plan to leave.

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

Monsters manager Steve Gillispie knew the situation and specifically put him in the lineup in right field Friday to give him a chance to go out with a good experience.

When Martin came to the plate in the eighth inning the Monsters were trailing the West Division rival Gwinnett Astros 10-5. But with one swing of his bat, he made it a one-run game and gave his team, with a little luck in the ninth, a chance to finally win a game at home. 

That luck didn’t manifest and the Monsters started the second half of their season with a 10-9 loss. But at least Martin got them back in the game and gave them a chance.

“Tomorrow is my last day,” he said. “I kind of had a plan out here before I came that I just wanted to stay through this week. I knew I wasn’t going to play the whole season here. I kind of chose this date, a little bit over halfway through the season. I just kind of wanted to go back home and work on some stuff myself, get a little bit of extra training for next season.”

Monsters outfielder Tanner Martin had two hits, including a grand slam in his next to last game with the club. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Martin had two hits in the game, raising his average to .190 in eight games. His two-out slam was the Monsters’ second homer of the season and their first at home.

Gillispie said his Catawba Valley freshman “earned the right to be back in there again” Saturday, but whatever success he enjoys this weekend would not change his decision on heading back to Hickory.

“Not really,” Martin said. “I’m still planning on going back home. Maybe I can pick up in another league and get some extra ABs somehow that way. 

“I hope I get to play tomorrow. That’s coach’s decision, not mine. But if this was my last game I guess I am going out with a bang.”

The Monsters (5-10) were looking to turn a new leaf in the second half of the season, even harboring hopes of winning the division, but the same things that plagued them in the first half – walks and base-running errors – continued dogging them.

Of the 10 runs the Astros scored, seven reached base via the walk; Monsters pitchers walked 10 in the game. They also made a major base-running error in each of the first four innings that cost them runs, perhaps none more questionable than Brandon Prince getting thrown out at home trying to tag on J.J. Rapp’s short fly out to center with none out in the third with a 3-1 lead and the heart of the order coming to the plate.

“Extremely disappointed,” Gillispie said. “You saw why we’re five-and-10. We walk guys. Gave up a two-run homer when we’re trying to pitch around a guy. Gave up 0-2 base hits that were runs. We struck out looking with guys in scoring position. We had a run score on a walk, a passed ball and a wild pitch. 

“We left probably five runs out there in the first four innings with some base-running mistakes. I know the answer for some of it and I’m going to address that tomorrow. We didn’t play smart baseball. We didn’t play good baseball. We didn’t coach.”

The Monsters jumped out to a 5-2 lead after four innings, but they could’ve had more if not for the base-running blunders and the Astros eventually made them pay for it.

Gwinnett scored eight runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh inning to take the lead. Two runs scored in the fifth when Michael Zarzana’s single got through Prince in center field. Chris Evans gave the Astros a 6-5 lead with a two-run homer in the sixth and Preston Welchel capped a four-run seventh with a three-run double.

Martin hit his slam after Tyler Waugh walked, Josh Cooper reached on a fielder’s choice that got nobody and Jake Spivey drew a four-pitch one-out walk. The Monsters had the meat of their order coming up in the ninth and Dom Scavone got it started with a leadoff single, but the Astros retired the next three hitters to close it out.

“We knew the position we were in, we knew we were down record wise,” Martin said. “But we came out here and thought, you know what, we’ll get the rest of them. We’ll go out here the second half and we’re going to do it, but it just didn’t go our way tonight.”

MONSTERS MASH: SBL rosters were frozen July 1 so the players the Monsters have are theirs for the duration. They did add LHP Carson Knight from UAB and C-IF Austin Embrey from Chattahoochie Valley. They also have three pitchers still rehabbing, but left-hander Garrett Segro is scheduled to pitch Wednesday at Waleska … The Monsters are losing two players and have another taking a break. Oxford’s Brennan McCullough (.273, 4 RBIs), the franchise’s first announced commitment, is taking a couple weeks off to decompress after a demanding past couple years, but remains committed to the club. RHP Brock Hill (0-3, 15.53) has left the team and Martin will be leaving after the weekend … The SBL All-Star Game is at Choccolocco Park July 17. Manager Steve Gillispie nominated seven Monsters – McCullough, Prince, Waugh, Nate Shipley and Rapp and pitchers Will Griffith and Daniel Swatek … Prince went 3-for-4 in the second game of the Prospects Showcase in Virginia earlier this week. Prince, the league’s leading hitter, extended his Monsters hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the first.

Gwinnett              101 022 400 – 10    7  5
Choccolocco       210 200 040 –    9  11  2
WP: Cade Mitchell (3-0). LP: Alexander McKay (0-2). S: Jeffery Martin (2). 2B: Preston Welchel (G), Devin Warner (G), Jake Spivey (C). 3B: Elgin Bennett (G). HR: Chase Evans (G), Tanner Martin (C).

Nate Shipley scores the Monsters’ second run of the first inning on a wild pitch. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

Sunbelt Baseball League standings

Gainesville GolDiggers133.813
Waleska Wild Things85.6153.5
Alpharetta Aviators312.2009.5
Atlanta Crackers95.643
Atlanta Blues88.5002
Brookhaven Bucks77.5002
Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots78.467
Gwinnett Astros57.4170.5
Choccolocco Monsters510.3332

Friday’s Games
Brookhaven 5, Columbus 3
Gainesville 9, Alpharetta 6
Gwinnett 10, Choccolocco 9
Waleska 4, Atlanta Crackers 3

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

Monsters shortstop Josh Cooper puts the tag on Gwinnett’s Mike Rodriguez, thwarting a stolen base attempt in the third inning. (Photo by B.J. Franklin)

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