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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Merritt, Mudcats take series lead over Nationals in pitchers' duel

Posted by on Sat, Apr 5, 2014 at 10:18 PM

FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON Checking in on the Carolina Mudcats, who are off to a 1-1 start heading into their first Saturday night home game of the season.

It’s Game 3 for new skipper Scooter Tucker against the Potomac Nationals - the current affiliates of the Washington Nationals, of course — who were long ago known as the Prince William Pirates.

Mudcats starter Ryan Merritt fires a strike against Potomac.
  • Photo by Dean Strickland O.D.
  • Mudcats starter Ryan Merritt fires a strike against Potomac.

Heading to the mound tonight for the Mudcats is Ryan Merritt (6-9, 3.42 at Lake County before a late callup to Zebulon last season.) The Nationals will counter with fellow southpaw Brett Mooneyham, who was 10-3 with a 1.94 ERA at Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League last year before a late-season callup to Potomac.

The Nationals have an area product in left fielder Will Piwnica-Worms, who was a non-drafted free agent out of Duke following the 2012 season.

The Mudcats need just three hits, getting great pitching all night in a 3-1 victory.

Carolina gets it going in the first couple of innings against Mooneyham, who has trouble throwing strikes.

Todd Hankins leads off with a walk and eventually scores on Anthony Gallas’ double-play ball.

Then in the second, James Roberts is hit by a pitch with two out and eventually scores when LeVon Washington draws a bases-loaded walk.

Mooneyham gives up two walks — his fifth and sixth — with one out in the third and is pulled after hitting Washington. But Dakota Bacus comes in and gets out of the jam.

Merritt goes six shutout innings and allows three singles, striking out two against one walk before giving way to Elvis Araujo.

Potomac gets something going in the eighth off D.J. Brown. Cole Leonida leads off with a double to left and scores on Tony Renda’s two-out double to left before Brown strikes out Brandon Miller to leave it 2-1.

Scooter Tucker is off to a 2-1 start in his first stint as Mudcats manager.
  • Photo by Dean Strickland O.D.
  • Scooter Tucker is off to a 2-1 start in his first stint as Mudcats manager.
But the Mudcats respond in the bottom of the frame, as Jeremy Lucas leads off with an infield hit and scores on James Roberts’ one-out sacrifice fly.

Louis Head gets his second save of the season, striking out two against a hit and a walk in the scoreless ninth.

They said it …

Mudcats manager Scooter Tucker: “Our pitching was much better tonight, wasn’t it? The umpire was giving both teams low strikes, and our guys kept the ball down. It was just a good pitching night. (Logan) Vick made a big catch for us in the fourth and (Ollie) Linton made a couple of big defensive plays. That’s the name of the game, defense and pitching. I don’t think any of us at this level are going to live off the three-run homer. It’s a good night.”

Merritt: “It was a great start. You can’t ask for a better opportunity. My changeup has worked pretty well. I was keeping the guys off-balance and mixing in pitches. And I love seeing my defense get dirty. It usually takes me a while to get going, but this time my first start was a good one.”

Gonzalez: “I was just looking for good pitches. On my first hit I was just trying to drive the ball to the other side. On my second one I tried to hit it to the middle and got a little bit lucky. Our pitchers were really good tonight. Merritt had good command for six innings.”

Stars of the game

1. Merritt.
2. Head.
3. Gonzalez.

Play of the game
Logan Vick’s catch of Stephen Perez’ sinking liner to left center with two out and a runner on second in the fourth.

On deck
Mudcats (Cole Sulser 0-0, 0.00) vs. Potomac (Pedro Encarnacion 0-0, 0.00), 2 p.m.

Mudcats center fielder Logan Vick makes a sprinting catch in the fourth inning to keep Potomac scoreless.
  • Photo by Dean Strickland O.D.
  • Mudcats center fielder Logan Vick makes a sprinting catch in the fourth inning to keep Potomac scoreless.

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Carolina needs only three hits to top Potomac


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