The comeback crew did it again on Tuesday at GCS Ballpark.
Bloomington native Blake Brown hit a 1-0 pitch from Normal reliever Cole Brocker over the right-centerfield wall for a walk-off grand slam home run in the ninth inning as the Gateway Grizzlies late season surge continued on Tuesday with a 6-3 win before a sparse crowd of 1,264 at GCS Ballpark.
The top team in the Frontier League’s West Division, Normal (51-34) broke a 2-all tie in the top of the ninth on a sacrifice fly by catcher Jim Vahalik. But Gateway, which has now won six of its last seven games, battled back for its seventh walk-off win of the season.
After Brocker got the first out in the bottom of the ninth, Cody Livesay and Seth Heck walked to put runners on first and second. Heck, who had three hits, fouled off five pitches during the at bat, before coaxing a walk from Brocker.
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Craig Massoni then struck out for the second out of the inning, but Brocker followed by walking Ben Waldrip on four pitches to load the bases. Two pitches later, Brown took a Brocker pitch and hit a line drive home run to clear the bases and give the Grizzlies the win.
As soon as Brown made contact, Grizzlies players ran from the dugout to mob Brown, who has three of the seven Grizzlies walk-off hits.
“It feels great. We’re playing good baseball against some of the top teams in this league right now,’’ Brown said. “I have to credit my teammates. They did a great job of getting on base in the ninth inning and giving me an opportunity to come up with the big hit.’’
Ironically Brown attended Normal West High School, which is located two miles from the Corn Crib, Normal’s home field. The win lifts the Grizzlies (35-49) to .500 (23-23) at GCS Ballpark this season.
The Grizzlies rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 2 after eight innings.
Leading the Frontier League’s West Division by four games and winner of 14 of its last 16 games coming into GCS Ballpark, Normal scored a run in the first inning before Santiago Chirino hit his fourth home run of the season off Gateway starter Trevor Richards in the fourth to take a 2-0 lead.
Gateway rookie shortstop Seth Heck brought his team to within 2-1 in the fifth with a run scoring single before Gateway tied the game off Normal reliever Horatio Acosta in the bottom of the eighth.
Blake Brown drew a one out walk and went to third base on a single by Tyler Tewell. Brown then scored on a sacrifice fly by Grant Buckner and then game was tied at 2.
Gateway entered play on Tuesday playing its best baseball of the season. Winners of six of their last eight games and five of their last six, the Grizzlies pitching staff had been the key. In its last six games, Gateway had surrendered only 12 runs.
Grizzlies starting pitcher Trevor Richards (5-6) gave his team another solid outing on Tuesday. But the Grizzlies offense, inconsistent at times and woeful at others, struggled to get anything going against Cornbelters starter Jake Negrete through the first four innings.
But sailing along with a two-hit shutout through four innings, Negrete ran into trouble in the Grizzlies fifth.
Gateway third baseman Grant Buckner led off with a single, but remained on first base as the next two hitters were retired. Livesay then singled to send Buckner to second base and Heck followed with his run scoring single to make the score 2-1.
Gateway then threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning as Ben Waldrip led off with a double. But Negrete retired the next three hitters to end the Grizzlies scoring chance. The Grizzlies stranded runners on first and third against Negrete in the seventh.
Richards, an Aviston native who played high school baseball at Mater Dei and attended College at Drury University, was taken out after working seven innings. He gave up two runs on six hits while striking out six.
Series continues: The Grizzlies and Cornbelters series continues on Wednesday and Thursday with 7:05 p.m. Gateway then takes to the road for its final trip of of the season — a three game set at Schaumburg beginning on Friday. Gateway then concludes its season with six games at GCS Ballpark starting with three games against Southern Illinois (Sept. 1-3) and Lake Erie (Sept. 4-6).
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.