That second, game-ending grand-slam came off of Ben Jukich, a left-hander who had been brought in by Rick Sweet specifically to face the lefty Richard. Needless to say, it didn't work.
Last night, the Bulls led 4-0 when Richard came up to hit in the fourth inning with one out and the bases loaded. They had already touched Jukich, who is now a starter—the Bats' best since Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney were called up to the majors—for five hits, and Jukich had allowed three walks, as well. He was further hurt by not one but two catcher's interference calls against Louisville backstop Devin Mesoraco. That had put a total of 11 men on base in just 3 1/3 innings against Jukich, and the Bulls had managed to plate four of them.
But they had really hit only two balls hard to that point, one an opposite-field liner by J. J. Furmaniak to lead off the third inning—he wound up with a triple when Bats right fielder Sean Henry had a little trouble corralling the ball in the corner—and a ringing single lined high off the Blue Monster by light-hitting catcher Craig Albernaz to lead off the fourth. Otherwise, it was sneaky grounders and broken-bat bloops.
After Albernaz's leadoff hit—he thought about trying for second, which would have been a bad idea, but was lucky that he slipped rounding first base and had to retreat to the bag—Elliot Johnson followed a Furmaniak strikeout with an infield hit, and Justin Ruggiano walked to load the bases.
Jukich had thrown Richard numerous curveballs in previous at-bats, and he did so again here, making Richard look foolish with a couple of them. But Richard evened the count at 2-2. Later, he said he guessed that Jukich would try to strike him out with another curveball, and that is indeed what Jukich threw—and Richard launched a majestic grand slam into the right-field seats, the third grand slam of his Bulls career, and the second off of Jukich. That made it 8-0—the first time in two weeks that the once mighty Bulls have scored that many runs in a game—and effectively put the ballgame to bed early. They had to play the rest of it anyway, of course, but the remainder of the evening was a fun and quiet descent, despite a couple of innings under light rain, into Sunday's decisive Game Five. One team advances to play Columbus, which won its series over Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and the other goes home for the season. If Louisville triumphs today, they will take on a division rival whom they have already played 21 times this season.
Sunday's full tilt boogie will be a matchup of southpaws, with Durham's Bobby Livingston facing Louisville's Jeremy Horst at 5:05 p.m. These are both unlikely starters for this game. More on why after the jump, along with further thoughts about Richard's grand slam and the stellar work of Bulls starting pitcher Paul Phillips, who, for the second year in a row, came up to Durham from Double-A just before the end of the regular season and tossed five victorious innings against Louisville in a playoff elimination game.
The 0-0 draw between Carolina (10-8-8, 38 pts.) and Portland (11-7-9, 42 pts.) at drizzly WakeMed Soccer Park is, frankly, the most unsurprising of outcomes. Portland entered the game having allowed only 20 goals over 26 matches this season; only Vancouver has surrendered fewer. Its backline had shut out four of its last five opponents while conceding only one goal over that same span. Moreover, four of the last five meetings between Carolina and Portland have ended in a draw, and the RailHawks have not beaten the Timbers in nearly two years.
Still, the RailHawks entered the game as the second highest scoring in USSF-D2 soccer and tied as the fourth stingiest defense. Surprisingly, Carolina had not ended a game in a tie since the 2-2 result against Vancouver on July 31.
Terrell Manning recovered at his own 10-yard line with exactly a minute left, foiling Central Florida’s comeback attempt and givinng N.C. State a 28-21 victory on Saturday night in Orlando.
State led 21-0 and then 28-7 before the Knights — who had spoiled O’Brien’s Wolfpack debut in Raleigh three years ago — came back and threatened to tie or take the lead