Gratz Challenges But The Rocket Proves Resilient
Heading into their 7th game of the season news of University City and Randolph's wins were common knowledge. The Rocket, with just one loss, knew they need to be perfect the rest of the way to ensure a fighting chance for a playoff birth in what has turned out to be the most competitive season in recent years.
Ethan Reese, fresh off his commanding performance over W Philly, got the start and proved he was more than capable of pitching on short rest notching 11 strikeouts and only surrendering 4 hits over 4 innings. After striking out the first two batters he faced, Reese got The Rocket off to a fast start by ripping a lead-off double. Shockingly SLA stranded the bases loaded and entered the 2nd still scoreless. Reese struck out the side on 21 pitches and then the bottom of SLA's order turned it back over en route to building a 6-run lead. Jhonas Dunakin smacked a shot into the gap in Right Center that seemingly was deep enough for a Home Run, but officials reversed their initial call ruling it a ground-ruled double. No harm no foul as Dunakin would later score when Jeff Schwartz smashed a monster 3-run Home Run to dead Centerfield.
Gratz scratched back into the game with 3 runs in the 3rd off some uncharacteristic defensive miscues, but SLA got 2 of the 3 back in the 3rd and 4th, proving they can play small-ball as well by moving runners and taking advantage of Gratz's inconsistent defense. Gratz was far from giving up though and scored 2 on a couple of extra base hits off Jeff Schwartz, who came on in relief in the 5th. Schwartz eventually settled down, quieted Gratz's bats and squashed a potential rally. The Rocket was cool, calm and collected as they weathered the late rally by Gratz. And then they opened it up with 7 runs over the next two frames to close the game out in 6.
The 15-5 win sets up a huge showdown with Randolph riddled with playoff implications as both teams stand at 6-1 and a game behind University City. The showdown on 4/24 will be the start of a 5-game road swing for The Rocket, but no one seems even slightly phased. The program's historical success on the road, on account of playing without a home field for the past three seasons, has set up a "no excuses" mentality, and an ability to perform as a unit even when the opponent's fan base gets loud. Calls of "Bird...Bird....Bird..." tend to be met with gutsy strikeouts, solid defense, and a heck of a lot of runs for The Rocket.
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