E.A. Sports Today

Down to the wire

Monsters, down to their last strike, rally for three in the ninth to win back-to-back games for first time in team history, close gap in wild-card race

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BROOKHAVEN, Ga. – The Choccolocco Monsters made some team history Wednesday night and went all the way to the edge to make it happen.

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The Monsters were literally down to their last strike against the Brookhaven Bucks, then put together a three-run, two-out rally in the ninth and pulled out a 5-3 victory that gave them back-to-back wins for the first time in team history.

All eight of the Monsters’ wins this season have come on the road. They are tied with the two best teams in the league — Gainesville and Atlanta Crackers — for most road wins in the league. More importantly, they gained some ground in the league’s wild-card race.

William Kelley singled home the tying run with his first RBI since June 13 and Austin Embrey, a catcher who joined the team the day before the acquisition deadline, put the Monsters ahead with a two-run single. It was his first hit with the Monsters. He had been 0-for-11 in five games.

“For the most part, outside of a game or two these guys have been very, very competitive,” Monsters manager Steve Gillispie said. “Winning, losing, they would never really need to look at the scoreboard, they were going to go about it the same way. That’s kind of what they did.

“I’m not surprised that they did a nice job of competing at all. It’s what I’ve come to expect, but it definitely would have been nice to have a couple of those come across early on and not wait to get back down to the last strike.”

Things looked bleak for the Monsters (8-13) after Josh Cooper was picked off second as tying run for the final out of the eighth. But their four Calhoun County players in the lineup picked it back up in the ninth before Kelley and Embrey delivered to make Weston Kirk a winning pitcher.

Brennan McCullough, returning to the Monsters’ lineup for the first time since June 25, at the plate when Cooper got picked, led off with a walk and moved to second on Brant Deerman’s hard shot to third. After the Bucks retired Sean Smith, Dawson Winningham kept the rally alive when he drew a walk on a payoff pitch to put runners at first and third.

Kelley, a notorious first-pitch swinger, hit his first pitch up the middle for a single and went to second when Bucks shortstop Demitri Diamant rushed the throw, allowing McCullough to score the tying run and putting runners at second and third. Embrey followed with his go-ahead single up the middle.

“It definitely felt good,” Embrey said. “I wasn’t coming in there with much confidence, but I got on deck, tried to clear my mind and was like it’s got to be clutch right here, you’ve got to have a big moment so I just wanted to make one swing.

“I haven’t seen many live ABs in a while, but I was seeing the ball good. I felt like I was in the box thinking way too much and finally I just said relax and play.”

Until the ninth, Brookhaven’s Addrian McNeal had the two biggest hits of the game. His two-run single in the fourth broke a scoreless pitching duel between Monsters right-hander Alexander McKay and Trey Felt and his RBI single in the sixth gave the Bucks a 3-2 lead after the Monsters tied the game in the top of the inning.

Embrey played for the Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots last season and sees a lot of similarities between them and the Monsters’ current situation. The Hoots got off to a slow start in their first season last year, then came on strong in the second half and wound up playing in the league championship series.

“There’s definitely similarities,” he said. “Last year with the Hoots we started out not strong at all and then just wondering (what the season held), then the end of the year came and when games mattered we just clutched up and played. When we had that run to the playoffs we treated it like it was like playing for school, not just a summer ball team, like we were trying to win something.

“It’s definitely getting later in the season. We’re having these talks where coaches are coming up to us and saying it’s on the line now, it’s not just playing.”

MONSTERS MASH: The rosters for Sunday’s SBL All-Star Game were announced after the game. Monsters RHP Will Griffith and SS Josh Cooper made the National Team; leading hitters Nate Shipley and Brandon Prince are alternates. Monsters coaches DeWayne Crowder and Dalton Cobb will help coach the American Team, opposite of their players … Griffith pitched 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief Wednesday to set up Kirk. “He was good tonight,” Gillispie said. “He was back to the Griffith of the first third of the season” … Kirk pitched two innings of one-hit shutout relief to get the win. He’s given up only one earned run in his lsat four appearances (10.1 innings) … Monsters have a big weekend set with Gwinnett that has wild-card implications. Austin Goode (0-1, 3.86) will start Friday and Garrett Telaga (0-3, 5.29) will go Saturday. They’re 1.5 games behind the Bucks for the last playoff spot, a half-game behind the Gwinnett.

Choccolocco       000 002 003 – 5 7 0
Brookhaven         000 201 000 – 3 8 3
WP: Weston Kirk (2-1). LP: Cole Turner (3-2). 2B: Scott Mudler (B).

Cover photo: Monsters outfielder William Kelley, shown in a game earlier this year, delivered the game-tying hit in the ninth inning Wednesday. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Sunbelt Baseball League standings

Gainesville GolDiggers166.727
Waleska Wild Things108.5564
Alpharetta Aviators415.21110.5
Atlanta Crackers136.684
Atlanta Blues1010.5003.5
Brookhaven Bucks911.4504.5
Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots118.579
Gwinnett Astros711.3893.5
Choccolocco Monsters813.3814

Wednesday’s Games
Atlanta Crackers 5, Gainesville 4
Choccolocco 5, Brookhaven 3
Columbus at Gwinnett, ppd.
Waleska at Atlanta Blues, ppd.

Thursday’s Game
Gainesville at Brookhaven, 5:35 p.m.

Friday’s Games
Alpharetta at Columbus, 6:05 p.m.
Atlanta Blues at Atlanta Crackers, 6:05 p.m.
Brookhaven at Waleska, 6:05 p.m.
Gwinnett at Choccolocco, 7:05 p.m.

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

Sunday’s Game
SBL All-Star Game at Choccolocco Park, 3 p.m.

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