After an early six-run deficit, the Charleston RiverDogs forged a valiant comeback until the Savannah Sand Gnats pulled away and closed out an 11-6 victory on Sunday evening in front of 3,108 fans at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park in South Atlantic League action.
Charleston is now 28-35 as first-place Savannah goes to 41-19. The Sand Gnats earned a series victory of 3-1 after winning the final three games.
Savannah scored the first six runs, starting with a run in the second inning. L.J. Mazzilli led off with a double and scored after two groundouts for a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, the Sand Gnats improved their lead to 2-0 after Mazzilli was driven in by an Amed Rosario single.
A four-run rally created a 6-0 Sand Gnats lead during the top of the fifth. After Rookie Davis induced a groundout and garnered a strikeout, Patrick Biondi kept the inning alive with a bunt single. Davis was relieved by Chaz Herbert, who allowed a run-scoring double by Gavin Cecchini. Jeff McNeil drew a walk before Mazzilli brought in Cecchini with a single. McNeil and Mazzilli scored on a Dominic Smith double.
Charleston sliced Savannah’s lead to 6-3 in the bottom of the fifth. Brandon Thomas had a leadoff double and scored when Michael O’Neill tripled. Tyler Wade doubled to bring in O’Neill for the next RiverDogs run. Three batters later, Wade scored during a single from Jackson Valera. Savannah’s Chris Flexen closed the inning by leaving the bases loaded to end his start.
The Sand Gnats brought in another two-out run in the seventh for a 7-3 advantage. With two outs and runners on the corners, Smith singled and plated Cecchini to stretch the lead out.
In the bottom of the seventh, the RiverDogs scored and also threatened to tie the contest. Aaron Judge received a one-out walk and came in from first base on a two-out double by Valera. Back-to-back walks filled the bases and brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate, but Sand Gnats reliever Akeel Morris entered the game and finished the frame on a strikeout.
Savannah strengthened its lead with a four-run eighth. McNeil cleared the bases on a two-out, three-run double to give the Sand Gnats a 10-4 lead. Mazzilli singled to score McNeil on the next play for an 11-4 Savannah advantage.
In the final inning, Kale Sumner helped the RiverDogs produce one last rally. Sumner singled against Tyler Vanderheiden with two outs and drove in Reymond Nunez and John Murphy and cut the deficit to 11-6. Vanderheiden responded with a game-ending strikeout to end the contest.
Flexen earned the victory and is 3-5 this season. Davis received the loss and has a 2-6 record following his sixth straight losing decision. In the longest RiverDogs game of the season, Sunday’s series finale lasted three hours and 44 minutes.
BALLPARK FUN: To wrap up Larry Doby Heritage Weekend, presented by South Carolina State University, the RiverDogs wore Homestead Grays uniforms while the Sand Gnats sported the jerseys of the Newark Eagles, who Doby played for early in his professional baseball career. Reggie Hughes, the son of a former Negro Leagues player, threw one of the ceremonial first pitches.
COMING UP: A seven-game RiverDogs road trip begins at the Greenville Drive on Monday at 7:05pm. The probable pitchers are Charleston RHP Luis Severino (1-2, 2.88 ERA) and Greenville LHP Trey Ball (1-4, 6.84 ERA). The RiverDogs return home to start the second half on Thursday, June 19 in a nationally-televised game against the Kannapolis Intimidators on another Budweiser Thirsty Thursday, presented by 95SX, with $1 drafts and DJ Natty Heavy. Tickets may be purchased at the Riley Park Box Office, (843) 577-DOGS (3647) or on-line at www.riverdogs.com. If fans cannot make it to the ballpark, they are encouraged to tune in to all the action this year both home and away worldwide on www.riverdogs.com and locally on 1250 WTMA, the new radio home for RiverDogs baseball.