Once in a while, in the long grind of a season, a great baseball moment explodes out of nowhere.
The Barnstormers benefited from one of those Saturday, and held on through a dramatic ninth inning to beat Southern Maryland 5-4.
Lancaster had nursed just five hits, along with some small-ball stuff and a towering home run by Destin Hood, for a 5-4 lead heading into the ninth.
Dean Green of the Blue Crabs led off the inning with a double in the right-center gap. Lancaster close Cody Eppley then sawed a bat clean in half in the hands of Cory Vaughn, but while the barrel of the bat nearly snacked Eppley, the ball dribbled to his right, toward shortstop, for an infield single, Green moving to third.
So: First-and-third, no outs, one-run game, and at the plate Charlie Valerio, who was 3-for-4 on the right, and whose three-run homer in the sixth had ratcheted up the tension considerably.
Velerio grounded a 2-1 pitch sharply to Lancaster second baseman Melvin Mercedes.
He hesitated a second.
“I probably could have tagged (Vaughn) out,’’ he said afterward. “I couldn’t believe how close to me he was. Really, though, I was only thinking about the guy at third.’’
Pinch runner Travis Witherspoon took off for the plate. Maybe Mercedes’ half-instant of thought enticed him.
Mercedes fired home, high, but catcher Anderson De La Rosa made a leaping catch. Witherspoon was caught in a rundown. Vaughn, rounding second, never stopped. 3B Joe Terdoslavich tagged Witherspoon out and then fired to shortstop Zach Shank, covering third, who tagged out Vaughn.
Your classic 4-2-5-6 double play, if you’re scoring at home. Tension almost violently unleashed, and, a routine ground-out later, game over.
“The biggest thing about that to me, as a coach, is that we were all in the right spots,’’ Barnstormers’ manager Ross Peeples said after his club won for the fifth time in six tries.
“The last seven or eight games, we’ve been playing better in all three phases, especially defense. And, what do they call it these days, … swagger? I think we’re getting a little of our swagger back.’’
They’ll swagger into Sunday’s 1 p.m. series ender with Southern Maryland, which also concludes the current home stand, before getting on a plane to begin a road trip at Sugar Land, Texas Monday.
Sunday’s pitching matchup: Lefty John Anderson (5-5) for Lancaster vs. Kyle Simon (2-5) for the Blue Crabs.