BRIDGEWATER – All of the way back on April 12th, which feels like ages ago, Patriots outfielder Brandon Lockridge walked-off Erie in Somerset’s home opener with a game-winning RBI double. On Thursday night, Lockridge sent Somerset to a date with that same SeaWolves team in the Eastern League Championship after lining an RBI single into right field in the bottom of the tenth inning to complete an improbable 6-5 rally and a 2-0 series victory to eliminate Portland from the postseason.
“I was just telling them that this is unbelievable,” admitted Lockridge. “This group has fought all year long and it’s just right to go to the finals on a walk-off after winning the first-half on a walk-off by Volpe. This team fought back all night long and we are excited to celebrate tonight and go for a championship here.”
“That’s how our series were with these guys all year,” said Patriots manager Dan Fiorito. “Just back-and-forth and this game was the epitome of that. Our guys are a relentless bunch and just kept competing and chipping away and they came from behind two times. I am just really proud of this group.”
Right-hander Clayton Beeter took for the ball for Somerset, and he was solid, yielding two runs (one earned) while striking out six over five innings of work. Beeter, who the Yankees acquired at the trade deadline last month from the Dodgers in exchange for Joey Gallo, had been kept to very light workloads with Los Angeles, but has since seen his pitch counts rise gradually with each outing. On Thursday, Beeter tossed a career-high 80 pitches, and he appeared to run out of gas after opening the sixth by surrendering a double and issuing his third walk of the night. A Stephen Scott sac-fly off of reliever Steven Jennings later in the frame would allow the Sea Dogs to extend their lead to 2-0.
Somerset fell down 3-0 in game one in Portland on Tuesday before rallying for eight runs in a huge fourth frame that was ultimately aided by drawing four walks in that inning. The seventh inning on Thursday played out somewhat similarly for the Patriots; – they sent nine men to bat and rallied back to knot the score on an RBI single from Lockridge and two bases loaded walks drawn by Jasson Dominguez and Austin Wells.
Just when it felt like Somerset had momentum heading into the latter stages of this closeout game, Hudson Potts delivered his second home run in as many games for Portland, this one a two-run shot in the eighth inning off of Nick Ernst, to give the Sea Dogs a 5-3 lead. Another rally would be necessary if the Patriots were going to avoid going to a decisive game three on Friday night.
After going quietly in the eighth, the Patriots were down to their last licks in the ninth, but that is where they have seemed to do their best work all season long. First baseman Mickey Gasper opened the stanza with a leadoff single to right field to put the offense in business. Following the hit by Gasper, both Lockridge and shortstop Trey Sweeney struck out swinging and suddenly Somerset was down to their final out. Dominguez was able to work a five-pitch walk and reached base as the tying run as catcher Austin Wells stepped to the plate.
The slugging backstop launched the second pitch of his at-bat over the right field wall, but it just narrowly sailed foul and missed what would have been a game winning three-run homer. Instead, Wells dumped a single into left center field two pitches later to score pinch-runner Max Burt from second base and put the Patriots within one run at 5-4. Third baseman Andres Chaparro followed Wells with a single of his own to score Dominguez and improbably tie the game for the Patriots. Somerset had the chance to win it, but former Sea Dog Jeisson Rosario went down on a questionable third strike call that ultimately left the bases loaded for the Patriots. To extra innings we went.
“Those were huge situations, and they were in control in the box with the crowd going wild,” said Fiorito. “But they stayed so disciplined up there and they’re incredible hitters. Luckily for me as a manager, best players coming through in big spots.”
During the regular season, minor league baseball institutes the ghost runner to begin a new extra inning frame on second base. That is no different in the postseason, either. So having tied the game in the ninth, Patriots closer Carson Coleman had to deal with a runner in scoring position before even throwing a pitch. That didn’t seem to faze Coleman one bit, though – he fanned two and generated an infield fly out to evade any Portland threat.
Rosario began the bottom half of the tenth as the Patriots automatic runner and quickly advanced to third base on a wild pitch uncorked by Sea Dogs reliver Ryan Zeferjahn. With winning run just 90-feet away and a championship series bid on the line, Lockridge merely just had to hit the ball somewhere to the outfield to secure the win. Instead, he lined an 0-2 offering into right field to plate Rosario and send the Patriots to the Eastern League championship series.
“In that last inning there, I knew I had Bastidas, Burt and Lockridge coming up,” Fiorito said. “Those were my ride-or-die guys here all season long and I knew one of those guys was going to come through for us. Lock keeps working every day and we are so confident with him up there.”
“I just tried to block it out of my mind,” admitted Lockridge. “Obviously early in the count the guy made a couple of really good pitches, so I get 0-2 and I just try to simplify it push my sights back to right field and he happened to pull a fastball right where I could put it that way and it worked out great.”
Somerset will now travel to Erie to square off against the SeaWolves in game one on Sunday after they swept away the Richmond Flying Squirrels in the western divisional series. Game two is slated for Tuesday night back in Bridgewater and if necessary, game three would also be at TD Bank Ballpark on Wednesday for all of the marbles.
“We’re going to do what we’ve done all year, baby,” said Lockridge. “We’re going to keep on winning.”