The Moose Jaw Miller Express decided they wanted nothing to do with a sweep in the first round of the Western Canadian Baseball League playoffs – and this time, the baseball gods agreed with them.
Express starter Jeff Nicolosi went six innings, scattering seven hits and allowing only a pair of runs as the Express pounded out a 9-6 win over the Regina Red Sox in Game 2 of their Eastern Division semifinal series Friday at Ross Wells Park.
The victory came on the heels of a 10-2 loss to Regina on Thursday and tied the best-of-three series 1-1. Game 3 goes tonight at Currie Field in Regina.
Interestingly enough, the way things looked in the early going it appeared the Express might be in for a long night – Nicolosi surrendered singles to the first four Regina hitters, leading to the game’s first run and loaded bases with none out.
That set the stage for what Express head coach Rich Sorenson felt was a turning point in the game – Regina’s Ryan Eastburn took a 3-0 pitch and pounded it into the ground right to second baseman Zach Campbell, who stepped on second and fired to first for the double play. A run scored, but Nicolosi got out of the inning on the next batter to limit the damage, turning what could have been a four or five-run outburst into a manageable number.
“It just trying to find it early, I was missing with my 0-2 stuff early in the game and they were making me pay for it, so I just tried to grind through it,” Nicolosi said. “It was just mindset-wise, just keep attacking and don’t let up a bit, because as soon as you let up for one second, that’s when they make you pay. So I just kept trying to get after it… and once you get a little run support the nerves ease up a little, you feel a little more confident and you can just go attack and pitch your game. It was a good team win.”
The Express got one back in their half of the first and tied the game in the third before everything that didn’t work at the plate in Game 1 suddenly turned around in the fourth – Moose Jaw sent nine batters to the plate, scoring five runs to take control of the game with a 7-2 lead.
Express MVP Michael Borst provided the big hit of the inning with a two-run double that scored Eric Marriott and Ty Lightley with their fifth and sixth runs of the contest.
“You could tell during BP today that we had a different mindset, guys were quiet and really getting into their swings, you could tell they wanted to come out and play another day after tonight,” said Sorenson. “Then we had some good at bats tonight, I felt our approach was really good. We stole some bases, we were able to get bunts down, so things really worked out and hopefully we can do this same thing tomorrow.”
Borst finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a pair of RBI, Marriott was 2-for-5 with a pair of runs and Lightley 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Geordie McDougall had a pair of hits and two RBI, Campbell knocked in one while recording a pair of hits.
The Express extended their lead to 9-2 before Willie Estrada got three of those runs back for Regina, hitting a three-run home run off reliever Michael Ross for his third round-tripper of the series.
That would be the extent of Regina’s offence, though, as Ross took no more damage the remainder of the inning before Jaden Hofman and Jack Gamba each tossed a scoreless inning of relief.
“It’s nice to give our seniors at least another game when they might not have any more baseball to play after this, so I was really happy for that and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow,” Nicolosi said.
Michael Borst gets the start on the mound for Moose Jaw in Game 3.
Extra innings… the game was delayed by a little over an hour and a half as a heavy but brief thunderstorm soaked the field a half-hour before game time. It looked as if things might be called off given the extent of water surrounding the infield – the tarp covered the main playing surface, keeping it in perfect condition – before players and coaches from both teams worked to get Ross Wells Park into a playable condition. That included using a portable pump, field sponges and buckets to drain the deepest puddles in foul territory before shoring things up with additional shale. First pitch was at 8:35 p.m. in near-perfect weather conditions, with game wrapping up at 11:42 p.m.