Pilots close home regular season with bizarre, franchise-record victory

  • Pin It

Stick around for more than six decades — War Memorial Stadium is eligible for Medicare and Social Security — and a ballpark is bound to witness some weirdness. But what transpired on Kentucky Avenue last Saturday night/Sunday morning between the Peninsula Pilots and Petersburg Generals stretched the imagination.

Enough lineup juggling to turn scorecards into Rorschach tests; a comeback from 8-0 down; a six-run inning fueled by one, yes one, hit; a 91-minute rain delay that extended the proceedings well past 1 a.m., and, finally, a franchise-record victory that, in the macro view, means little, yet reminds how goofy and fun sports can be.

With a Coastal Plain League playoff spot long secured, and with the Pilots playing their home regular-season finale, coach Hank Morgan planned some frivolity: Infielders P.J. Higgins and Nick Lustrino would play all nine positions.

That they did, and while Higgins failed to retire any of the three batters he faced as a "closer" in the ninth inning — Petersburg scored the tying run — Lustrino struck out two in a scoreless eighth. Higgins atoned in the 11th inning, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.

The CPL's worst team, the Generals surged to an 8-0 lead after four innings, and given the lack of stakes, the Pilots, the league's best club, easily could have hit the snooze button. But in the bottom of the fifth, both parties, especially Petersburg, reverted to form.

Brandon Stephens struck out to start the madness but reached first when strike three was a wild pitch. Generals starter Cameron Tekker, a rising junior at Virginia, then threw away back-to-back sacrifice bunts to load the bases with none out.

Clearly rattled, Tekker walked Kyle Kempf to force home a run. Taylor Ostrich's groundout plated a second run, after which Tekker walked Higgins to bring home another run and end his evening.

Alex Close greeted reliever Austin McGhee with a 2-run single up the middle, and two batters later, Higgins scored on McGhee's wild pitch to cut the deficit to 8-6.

Weather intervened shortly thereafter, delaying the seventh inning until 11:16. The Pilots knotted the game on Garrett Brooks' bases-loaded walk in the seventh and seized the lead at 9-8 on Lustrino's two-out single in the eighth.

Higgins yielded a double and two walks in the ninth, setting the table for Michael Bryon's RBI single off Thomas Busbice to force extra innings. Grayson Bailey struck out five Generals over the next two innings before Brooks led off the 11th with a walk, advanced to third on two wild pitches and scored on Higgins' two-out single to right.

The clock read 1:29 a.m., and even without the rain delay, the 4:46 game time was the Pilots' longest of the season by more than an hour.

The 10-9 victory was Peninsula's 450th in 15 CPL seasons, its 40th of 2014, a franchise record. Last year's Pilots won 39 games, but six came during the playoff run to their first league championship. Forty regular-season victories speaks to remarkable consistency from a collection of college kids who have every right to be counting the days until they return to campus.

Peninsula was 40-14 entering Monday's doubleheader at Petersburg to close the regular season. The top-seeded Pilots open a best-of-three playoff quarterfinal Wednesday in Fayetteville, N.C., with Thursday's Game 2 versus the SwampDogs and, if necessary, Friday's Game 3 in Hampton.

Morgan's club is 4-0 against Fayetteville this season, including slugfests of 9-8, 9-7 and 8-7. Postseason baseball rarely fails to deliver similarly high drama, but the playoffs will be hard-pressed to be as uniquely bizarre as Saturday night.

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

  • Pin It