Sports

Aviators complete sweep of Grizzlies

Gateway catcher Grant Nelson goes over the signs with relief pitcher Troy Barton after manager Phil Warren made his third pitching of the game during the fifth inning Sunday against the Rockford Aviators at GCS Ballpark in Sauget. The Aviators won 14-1, completing a sweep of their three-game season-opening series.
Gateway catcher Grant Nelson goes over the signs with relief pitcher Troy Barton after manager Phil Warren made his third pitching of the game during the fifth inning Sunday against the Rockford Aviators at GCS Ballpark in Sauget. The Aviators won 14-1, completing a sweep of their three-game season-opening series. Special to the News Democrat

The Gateway debut of left-handerMichael O’Neal proved to be one he, Grizzlies manager Phil Warren and a crowd of 1,218 disapointed fans would like to forget Sunday at GCS Ballpark.

Unfortunately, reliever Brandon Hallford’s debut wasn’t any better.

The Rockford Aviators benefitted from 10 walks by O’Neal and Hallford in the opening 2 2/3 innings to score 14 runs and went on to complete a three-game series sweep with a 14-1 victory.

A former Auburn University standout who pitched a year ago with the Frontier League’s Florence Freedom, O’Neal allowed eight earned runs in 1 1/3 innings as the Aviators (3-0) took an 8-0 lead. Hallford also struggled to find the strike zone walking five hitters and allowing six more runs in his inning of work.

In all, Rockford batted around three times in the first three innings thanks to 10 walks, six hits and an error as it handed Gateway (0-3) one of its worst home losses in franchise history.

Rockford, which outscored Gateway 25-5 in the three-game set, finished the day with 11 hits against five Gateway hurlers and were issued 21 walks in 27 innings overall.

“Is that what it was? I stopped counting after the first 12. Whatever it was, it’s not a good recipe for success,’’ Warren said. “It’s certainly not what we expected coming out of spring training.

“The thing about walks is that, a couple of walks and base hits and the other team has a couple of runs against you. It’s something that we’ll need to address if it continues.’’

O’Neal struggled with his control from the outset.

After Brian Bistagne singled with one out in the first inning, O’Neal walked the next three hitters to force in the first run of the game. A fielder’s choice by Ryan Breen and a run-scoring ground out by Devon Rodriguez increased the lead to 3-0.

Two more walks and two hits in the top of the second inning ended O’Neal’s night and after Hallford retired the first batter he faced, Greg Velazquez cleared the bases with a three-run double as the lead grew to 7-0.

The Aviators then sent 11 men to the plate in the third inning, taking advantage of three walks, a Grizzlies error and RBI singles by Dusty Robinson and Velazquez.

Breen and Anthont Renteria also drove in runs in the third as Rockford’s lead expanded to 14-0.

Troy Barton took over for Hallford and after getting the final out of the third inning, he blanked Rockford for the next three innings.

“If there is a silver lining tonight, it was the way Troy (Barton) pitched after a rough outing last night,’’ Warren said. “He bounced back and threw the ball extremely well. We like his stuff and feel he’ll be a key guy for us out of the bullpen.’’

Lost in the carnage was the pitching effort by Aviators starter Kyle Hassna, who blanked the Grizzlies on two hits over the first five innings before Gateway (0-3) got on the scoreboard in the sixth.

Madison Beaird singled to lead off and one out later went to second on a hit by Richard Seigel.

Hassna got Grant Buckner for the second out before Rolando Gomez lined a sharp single to left, scoring Beaird.

Despite the 0-3 start, veteran Richard Seigel is off to a good start at the plate the Grizzlies. His 3-for-4 effort lifted his team-leading average to .455.

Seigel feels the Grizzlies’ day off Monday will do them good.

“It was just one of those weekends. We’ll be fine,’’ Seigel said. “We just need to step away from it for a day, clear our heads a little bit and come back ready to play again on Tuesday.’’

Contact reporter Dean Criddle at dcriddle@bnd.com or 618-239-2661.

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