FLORENCE, Ky – In the first game after the All-Star Break, the Florence Freedom, presented by Titan Mechanical Solutions, survived a furious late rally from the Southern Illinois Miners and opened the weekend with a win over their West Division foe, 11-7, on Friday night at UC Health Stadium.
Florence (26-25) wasted no time jumping out to a, 1-0, lead in the bottom of the first. Caleb Lopes doubled off Southern Illinois (24-24) starter Geno Encina (1-6) and came around to score two batters later when Skyler Ewing hit a tall chopper on the infield that gave Lopes enough time to score from third.
The Miners promptly tied the game at one in their next at-bat against Cody Gray (3-2), manufacturing a run off a hit-by-pitch, stolen base, and an RBI single. Romeo Cortina was plunked on the first pitch he saw, and swiped second a few pitches later to set the table for Joe Dudek. The first baseman ripped a single to right and Cortina beat the throw to the plate to knot the game.
Making his debut at-bat in the Freedom half of the second, Graylin Derke followed a Jacob Wark walk with a missle that sailed over the Freedom bullpen in right field for his first home run of the season. Derke is now the third Freedom player to homer in his debut this season, joining Wark and Ewing in that category. With the big-fly, Florence regained the lead at, 3-1.
A couple of singles from Jordan Brower and Ewing set the table for Ricky Ramirez Jr. in the bottom of the third. In a full count, Ramirez Jr. launched his fifth home run of the year over the second wall in right-center as the Freedom extended their lead to, 6-1.
Gray settled into a groove through the middle part of the game. From the second through the sixth inning, he retired 13 straight batters, including seven on strikeouts. Kyle Davis ended that streak in the top of the sixth, hitting a solo homer for the Miners second run of the night.
Encina was removed to begin the seventh inning in favor of Ryan Askew, and the Freedom jumped all over the Southern Illinois reliever. Askew allowed three straight singles to begin his outing, as Harrison White notched his first hit in a Freedom uniform, and Lopes and Brower tallied base knocks behind him. The single from Brower drove in White and pushed the Freedom in front, 7-2. Ewing followed the RBI-single with his fourth big-fly of the year, a three-run shot to deep to left field. Nick Palacios would replace Akew on the bump but Florence continued their offensive barrage, tallying one more run on an Austin Wobrock RBI single to left that plated Ramirez Jr. In total, Florence sent 10 men to the plate and scored five runs en route to an 11-2, lead.
Miners starter, Encina, finished his night getting tagged for six runs on nine hits over six innings with one walk and six strikeouts.
Gray was replaced by Brian McKenna in the eighth, and it closed the book on another phenomenal outing from the right-hander. Gray went seven full-innings, and allowed only two runs on three hits with no walks and seven whiffed Miners.
Southern Illinois began to chip away in the eighth, pushing one across on a bloop single to right off the bat of a pinch-hitting D.J. Oliver. An outfield assist from Ramirez Jr. nailed Oliver trying to take second, as McKenna limited the Miners to one run in the frame.
With Eric Gleese on the bump in the top of the ninth, the Miners mounted a rally, seeing their first five batters reach safely in the frame. Kurt Wertz Jr. tallied a pinch-hit single to plate the first run, and Dudek knocked in his second and third runs of the game with a single to right. With the bases loaded, Sam Martin was called on in relief, but walked the only man he faced as the Miners scored again, cutting the Freedom lead to, 11-7. Closer Johnathon Tripp emerged from the bullpen with the bases loaded and one out, and promptly struck out the first man he faced. With the tying run at the plate in the form of Davis, Tripp induced the second baseman into a fly-out to right, securing the Florence victory and notching his fifth save of the season.
Florence and Southern Illinois will square off in game two of the series Saturday night at UC Health Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 6:05 pm. All-Star Steve Hagen will start on the mound for the Freedom, and he will be opposed by righty Steven Ridings for the Miners.