For at least one night, Gateway Grizzlies centerfielder Blake Brown turned GCS Ballpark into the happiest place in St. Clair County on Saturday.
Brown took Rockford hurler Colby Holmes first pitch in the bottom of the 10th inning over the right-centerfield fence for a walkoff home run as Gateway thrilled a crowd of 4,121 fans with a 3-2 win.
The top team in the Frontier League, Rockford (24-12) had chances to take the lead in both the ninth and 10th innings but Gateway relievers Scott Harkin and Brett Zawacki stranded the go-ahead runs on third base.
Brown then gave Gateway (13-25) its fifth win in its last six games in the friendly confines of GCS Ballpark with his dramatic blast.
Drawing the task of going up against one of the best the Frontier League has to offer, Gateway pitcher Vincent Molesky didn’t back down on Saturday at GCS Ballpark as he outpitched Rockford starter Tony Rizzotti.
Coming off a no decision in his last outing and entering the game with an inflated 5.82 ERA, Molesky was brilliant in his 7 2/3 inning stint against the Aviators. Ranked as one of the top offensive teams in the Frontier League, Rockford did not have a single baserunner and did not hit the ball out of the infield until shortstop Brian Bistagne hit a 1-1 pitch for an opposite field home run with one out in the fifth to give the Aviators a 1-0 lead.
Gateway shortstop Rolando Gomez gave the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning with a two-out, two run double, but Rockford rightfielder Dusty Robinson hit the Aviators’ second home run of the night to lead off the seventh and tie the score at 2-all.
After breezing through the first three innings, Molesky needed — and got — help from his defense in the top of the fourth. Making his professional debut, rookie shortstop Seth Heck, a former Mississippi State University standout, went behind second base to spear a hard hit ground ball and throw out Michael Hur, who led off the frame. Then Grizzlies first baseman Craig Massoni turned the second defensive gem when he made a diving catch off the bat of Ja’Ron Shepherd three pitches later for the second out of the inning.
Rizzotti, entering the game as one of the top pitchers in the Frontier League, wasn’t quite as efficient as Molesky through the first four innings as he allowed at least one Grizzlies baserunner in each inning. But still in a team hitting slump which had accounted or just six runs in its last four games entering play on Saturday, Gateway did not take advantage.
But Gomez gave the Grizzlies the Grizzlies their first lead of the homestand with his double in the bottom of the fifth.
Heck collected his first professional hit, a single, with one out and, when leadoff hitter Cody Livesay reached on a perfect bunt single, Gateway had runners on first and second with one out. Rizzotti then retired Ryan Soares for the second out of the inning, but Gomez lined a double, scoring both Heck and Livesay to put Gateway up 2-1.
Grizzlies notes: The Grizzlies-Aviators series concludes on Sunday with a 6:05 p.m. first pitch. After an off day on Monday, Southern Illinois invades GCS Ballpark for the first of a three game series on Tuesday beginning at 7:05 p.m.
What the heck: Looking to bolster an anemic offense, the Grizzlies signed Heck to a contract before the game Saturday. A member of the Southeastern Conference all-academic team, Heck played in 107 of the Bulldogs’ 117 games during the past two years. Named as team captain this past season, Heck hit ..287 with 12 RBIs for Mississippi State.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.