On a day when the hits were few and far between off stellar Bucks County Thunder hurler Huck Polk, the Washington Township Senators used an old tool to steal a win: patience.
Trailing 7-4, the Senators collected four runs in the eighth inning, and picked up an 8-7 walk-off win when the game ended due to the three-hour time limit. Four walks in the inning allowed the Senators to steal this game
John DiPietro got the start for the Senators, and the ace hurler fell behind in the second. Dave Naylor got the first of his four hits, a two-out single, and DiPietro walked Tony Bono. Mike Finsel picked up an infield single to load the bases, and Tony Szogi got the RBI single to make it 1-0. DiPietro recovered to fan Bryce Sommerer to end the threat, though.
The Senators got that run back in the bottom of the inning. Dan Laudisio drew a lead-off walk, but Polk fanned Miles Reader and Hector Colon consecutively before walking Joe Leo. Fortunately for the Senators, a Thunder infield error than allowed their first tally to cross the plate. Unfortunately, Leo was easily erased at the plate trying to give the Senators the lead.
But the Thunder top of the order went to work on DiPietro in the third. Tom O'Donnell got a one-out walk, and Ryan Roberts sent him home with an RBI double to right-center. And one out later, Mike Hause added another RBI double to make it 3-1.
Both hurlers settled into a groove at this point until the sixth, when consecutive singles by Hause, Noel Crespo, and Naylor produced a fourth run for the Thunder. Bono grounded to third for the first out, placing runners on second and third for Finsel, who dumped what looked like a sure single into shallow center.
But Mike Fanelli appeared out of nowhere to make a diving stab of the ball over his left shoulder, face-planting himself in the process. No matter: Naylor was two-thirds of the way to third, and he was easily doubled off second to end the inning. The play would prove to be a key to the Senator victory.
Polk, meanwhile, cruised through six allowing just two scratch singles, and the Thunder hurler appeared headed for an easy victory.
DiPietro was done after six innings and 101 pitches, and veteran Frank Rose took the hill for the Senators. He was not greeted warmly.
Szoji singled to start the innning, and Jason Adams got another single with one out. O'Donnell smoked an RBI double, leaving runners on second and third, and Roberts delivered a sacrifice fly to left to give the Thunder a healthy 6-1 lead after six. But the Senators crawled back into the contest in the seventh, as the searing heat appeared to finally tame the big right-hander.
Kurt Ley singled with one out and he moved up a base on a wild pitch. Polk got Mark Alessandrini on a sharp come-backer for the second out, but Laudisio followed with an RBI single to make it 6-2, and Polk, now at 135 pitches, faltered, walking Reader and Colon to load the bases.
Leo promptly smoked a two-run single to bring the Senators back to 6-4, and Polk headed to the showers, with Roberts taking the hill. With Chris Johannes at the plate and a 2-0 count, the little lefty did what those guys do so well — he picked Leo off first to end the inning.
The Thunder were not done with the bats, though. With one out in the top of the eighth, Crespo drilled a 3-2 Rose offering over the short porch in left center to make it 7-4. Naylor followed with his fourth single of the day, and when Rose hit Bono with a 1-1 curve ball, manager Nick Frese called Angel Rivera in from the bullpen. And the Senator shortstop did not disappoint, retiring Vinny Cruz and Henry Haas to set the stage for the fateful eighth inning.
Roberts was clearly struggling with the very difficult mound at Delsea Drive Park, and he walked Johannes, Rose and Fanelli to put himself in quite a pickle. Bruce Schumin slapped an RBI single to left to make it 7-5, and Frese then worked a walk to make it a one run game, ending Roberts' day on the hill.
Crespo took the hill next, but he faired no better initially, walking DiPietro to tie things up. Now well past 12 noon, the Senators realized they had a chance to steal the win. But Bill Trotman's grounder to third resulted in a force at the plate to keep the Thunder's hopes alive.
Not for long though. Rivera worked a full count, and then hit another grounder in the hole at third. The Thunder third sacker fielded the ball, but Frese at third veered smartly into his throwing lane, and his relay pulled the Thunder receiver just off the dish as the Senator skipper slid in with the game-winning tally.
This was an improbable win for the home club, but this Senator team has spent the entire year not knowing when to say "Uncle". They were out-hit by a 16-7 margin, but the 16 walks issued by Thunder pitching were the great equalizer. Not a single Senator could manage more than one hit, and Leo led the way with two RBI. The Thunder got four hits out of Naylor, while O-Donnell, Roberts, Hause, Crespo and Szoji all hit two.
Polk certainly deserved a better fate, delivered a solid 6-2/3 innings of work, but in the end he gets only a no-decision for the effort. Roberts took the loss in relief, and Rivera steals the pitching victory for having faced just two batter.
Next up for the Senators: a much anticipated visit to Campbell Field in Camden for a game against the South Jersey Hot Stovers. This is a playoff tune-up for both clubs, as the divisional set-up is pretty much been decided.
Notes: The mound was an issue for both clubs all day, but conditions clearly affected the Thunder more, as they walked 16 to the Senators two. A very tight strike zone did not help matters. The Senators now have to consider whether or not they want to play at Washington Lake Park or perhaps Washington Township High School during the playoffs rather than deal with this sand pit...Polk is yet another in a series of very solid 35-year-old pitchers this club has faced this year. He used a good fastball and sharp deuce to keep the Senators off balance most of the day...it's easy to see why the Thunder club has just three losses on the season. They have a solid offense, a great pitcher, and they play good defense as well. They should be in the hunt during the playoffs without a doubt...the Senators were without Jim Toth and Bob Wood, and they chose to bat 15 in this meaningless game, the first time the club has ever done that to our knowledge...Leo continues to rack up the key RBIs. The guy has been clutch this year. Now if we can get those legs healthy...Fanelli's play was clearly the defensive highlight of the season. It's rare that you see a guy make a play that good at this level. Both teams were pretty much in awe of that one.