By CHASE GORSKI
Salisbury (11-5) used a three-run bottom of the eighth to foil a late comeback from Wesley College (9-4), securing a 9-8 victory and moving to 4-0 in conference play this season.
The Gulls started the game strong behind senior starting pitcher Pete Grasso, giving him plenty of offense to work with. After junior shortstop Scott Ardoin drew a walk in the bottom of the second, Salisbury freshman third baseman Troy Miller took Wesley’s starter, junior Alex Marrs, deep for a two-run homerun to take an early lead 2-0.
Salisbury continued to put runs on the board, including two more in the third followed by two in the sixth. Miller, who was making just his second start this season, helped to lead the Sea Gulls’ offense, accounting for four of their nine runs in the game.
“I just wanted to come in and contribute any way that I could,” Miller said. “It feels good to help…it was a huge win for us.”
As if the offense’s six runs were not enough, Grasso had also thrown seven innings of shutout baseball, allowing only one hit to the Wolverines. Throwing over 100 pitches through seven innings, Grasso recorded eight strikeouts while only walking one batter.
Despite his dominance throughout the game, fatigue set in quickly for Grasso in the eighth.
While giving up two walks and a single to begin the inning, the Gulls recorded two outs and it looked as if Grasso would limit the damage. However, the third walk of the inning for Salisbury loaded the bases, with the fourth coming immediately after allowing the Wolverines to score their first run of the day.
After a wild pitch brought in another run, making the score 6-2, and Grasso then walked his fifth batter of the inning, SU head coach Troy Brohawn made a call to the bullpen bringing an end to Grasso’s outing.
Making just his third start of the season, it was evident that fatigue plagued Grasso towards the tail-end of his start with a season-high of 143 pitches.
“Fatigue definitely set in in the eighth—I tried to fight through it but just ran out of gas at the end,” Grasso said.
On his decision to leave Grasso in until late into the eighth, coach Brohawn felt that, despite the high number of pitches he had thrown, Grasso had moved through the game with ease.
“I thought he was cruisin’, and for me it’s an easy hundred or a hard hundred, and I thought he had a pretty easy hundred,” Brohawn said. “If we just make a play or two behind [Pete], it’s 6-0 going into the ninth…we made two errors in that inning that pretty much allowed everything to happen.”
SU junior reliever Brad Keith entered the game for Grasso in the top of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded to try and limit the damage. The Wolverines would not go down quietly, though, as they used two walks and a double off of Keith to add three more runs to the score and tie the ballgame 6-6.
Coach Brohawn then went to his junior right-hander Andrew Kramer to try and stop the bleeding. To the Sea Gulls’ disappointment, Kramer struggled as well, giving up two straight RBI-singles to give Wesley their first lead of the game.
Coach Brohawn’s third call to the pen was more successful, bringing in another junior righty in Connor Reeves, who struck out the only batter he faced in the inning.
Going into the bottom of the eighth down two, the Sea Gulls kept their confidence high at the plate. After back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom half of the eighth, Miller stepped up to the plate once again and delivered a long fly ball to left field, allowing senior right fielder Kevin Dean to tag up at third and race home after the catch.
After two more Gulls reached to load the bases with two outs and the score 8-7, Grasso— who had become the designated hitter after being pulled—stepped up to the plate with one thing on his mind: redemption.
Grasso sent a first-pitch fastball into centerfield allowing Ardoin and freshman center fielder Justin Meekins to score and retake the lead 9-8.
“I just went up, attacking first pitch,” Grasso said. “Guys on base with two outs, I was just trying to get them in.”
With Salisbury back in control, Reeves strolled back out to the mound in the top of the ninth and retired the side to claim the long-fought victory for the Sea Gulls.
After leading for most of the game and then losing the lead in a long eighth inning, Gulls’ players knew they could complete the comeback and kept morale high in the dugout.
“We know we can score runs,” Miller said. “When we got back in the dugout we said, ‘hey it’s alright. . .two runs is nothing,’ and we went out there and we got three.”
The Sea Gulls will look to keep their morale high throughout their busy weekend as they travel on Saturday for an in-conference double-header against Mary Washington (9-6). Salisbury split their two-game series against the Eagles last season with an 11-6 win and what led to be their worst loss of the season by a score of 23-6.
The Gulls will finish out the weekend with an out-of-conference matchup at home on Sunday against DeSales University (3-7).