By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Off the schneid one night, on a winning streak the next.
The Charlotte Stone Crabs rallied from a two-run deficit for a 3-2 win over the Lakeland Flying Tigers Friday night to win their second straight after losing seven in a row to start the season. Brandon Lowe scored the winning run in the eighth when Brett Sullivan grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded.
“We had some momentum coming into the day and this team that we’re playing is a better team than their record, they’re struggling a little bit,” Stone Crabs manager Michael Johns said. “I thought it was really important for us to have a comeback win in that fashion and hopefully we can keep building that momentum.”
Charlotte scored two runs in the seventh off reliever Drew Smith to tie the game. The rally was set up by a Dalton Kelly walk and a ground rule double by David Olmedo-Barrera, which would’ve scored Kelly had it not bounced over the wall. But with two outs, Ryan Boldt hit an infield single to score Kelly while second baseman Joey Pankake’s throw to first went wild and allowed Olmedo-Barrera to also score.
The Stone Crabs managed just three hits through the first six innings but Johns thought his team’s patience at the plate paid off in the end. They put together two hits each in the seventh and eighth to stage the rally.
“I thought we controlled some at-bats,” Johns said. “Olmedo-Barrera’s double was obviously huge. It was unfortunate it hopped over the fence but it ended up being a huge at-bat. But I thought all of our guys had really good at-bats.”
Tyler Brashears picked up the win for Charlotte with three scoreless innings of relief. Ian Gibault closed the door with a perfect ninth, which included two strikeouts, for his first save of the season.
Lakeland (3-6) wasted a great start by Kyle Dowdy, who made a spot start after pitching only 4.2 innings in two relief appearances this season. Dowdy was nearly unhittable, stifling Charlotte’s lineup through 5.1 innings with just two hits and four strikeouts.
Charlotte’s only chance to do any damage against Dowdy came in the third when Brandon Lowe doubled and David Rodriguez tried to score from first only to get thrown out at the plate.
Michael Velasquez started for Charlotte and threw five innings, giving up two earned runs on nine hits with three walks. He let the Flying Tigers jump out to lead in the first on an RBI double by Wade Hinkle, who went 2-for-5, and later surrendered a leadoff walk to David Gonzalez in the sixth before being pulled for Brashears.
After Jose Azocar, who went 4-for-5, singled to move Gonzalez to third, Gonzalez scored on a double play to put Lakeland up 2-0.
But Velasquez worked himself out of multiple jams in the game to keep Charlotte in it. Lakeland left 21 runners on base, 10 of which came with Velasquez on the mound. Velasquez also worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.
“Velasquez did a nice job. He pitched out of a lot of trouble,” Johns said. “It probably goes unnoticed in a game that’s exciting like that at the end but there were a lot of innings there in-between where he had runners on and he just kept pitching, make pitches when he needed to and I thought our defense played really well so it was a good team win.
“We needed to come back and show our guys that we can come back.”
Nathan Lukes wasn’t in Charlotte’s lineup but for good reason. Lukes was promoted to Double-A Montgomery on Friday after hitting .400 to start the season with two walks and three RBI in six games.