On a night where scoring opportunities were plentiful, the Gateway Grizzlies’ bats went silent — again — on Tuesday at GCS Ballpark.
Southern Illinois veterans Michael Earley and Niko Vasquez drove in two runs each and five Miners pitchers combined to hold Gateway to five hits in a 5-4 win in a Frontier League game.
Earley had an RBI double in the third inning and added a run-scoring single in the fourth while Vasquez added a two-run single in the fourth when Southern Illinois (25-15) took a 4-0 lead off Grizzlies starting and losing pitcher Trevor Richards.
A two-run home run by first baseman Ben Waldrip in the bottom of the fourth inning got a crowd of 3,128 going as Gateway closed to within 4-2 and the Grizzlies (13-26) took advantage of a Miners bullpen meltdown in the seventh to close to within 5-4.
Trailing 5-4 entering the eighth, Gateway had runners in scoring position, but reliever Pete Perez struck out Cody Livesay with runners on first and second to end the threat.
Perez then retired the Grizzlies in order to preserve the win. Gateway, which stranded runners in scoring position in five innings, received five walks and had another batter hit by a pitch combined in the seventh and eighth innings. The Grizzlies stranded nine runners on base for the night.
Trailing 5-2 following a sacrifice fly by the Miners’ Frank Martinez in the top of the seventh, the Grizzlies came right back in the bottom of the inning with a pair of runs to close to within 5-4.
Taking over for starting pitcher Adam Lopez (5-0), Miners relievers Shane Street and Eric Green combined to walk three hitters and give up a double to Grizzlies catcher Jared Welch to spark the Grizzlies comeback.
Livesay made it 5-3 with an RBI groundout, and when Blake Brown drove in Seth Heck with a sacrifice fly, Gateway was within a run. But Evan Mott struck out Ben Waldrip with runners on first and second to end the inning.
Richards, an Aviston native who played high school baseball at Mater Dei, escaped trouble in the second inning when second baseman Rolando Gomez made a dazzling catch on a pop fly with his back to the infield and runners on first and and second.
But the former Drury University standout wasn’t as fortunate in the third inning. Lead-off hitter Brian Portelli singled and advanced to second when Aaron Gates grounded out. Portelli then scored when Earley lined a double down the left field line.
Making just his third professional start, Richards continued to struggle in the the top of the fourth as Southern Illinois added to its lead. Singles by Jon Minucci and Portelli put runners on first and second with two outs. After walking Aaron Gates to load the bases, Richards allowed Earley’s second RBI single of the night and when Vasquez lined a two-run single four pitches later, the Miners had a 4-0 lead.
Richards held the Miners scoreless in his final two innings of work before Jordan Wellander took over in the top of the seventh. Richards allowed four runs on seven hits while walking four and striking out three.
The Grizzlies cut the Miners lead in half in the fourth on Waldrip’s home run. Entering the game with a 1.33 ERA, Lopez walked Blake Brown on a 3-2 pitch and five ptiches later, Waldrip hit his fourth home run of the season, which sailed well over the right-center-field fence
Grizzlies notes: The Grizzlies-Miners series continues Wednesday and Thursday with 7:05 p.m. contests. The Frontier Greys then come to GCS Ballpark for 6:35 p.m. games Friday and Saturday. Among the Fourth of July celebration will be a huge fireworks show following both games with the Greys.
A new arm: Continuing to try to bolster its pitching staff, the Grizzlies signed 22-year-old Donny Murray from Walpole, Mass. Murray takes the roster spot of Craig Massoni, who was placed on the disabled list Tuesday.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Murray is a rookie who last pitched at Holy Cross University.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.