TROY — A year ago, the Tri-City ValleyCats were in the midst of a 4-15 start to their Frontier League season.
As they closed out the month of May on Tuesday night, the ValleyCats find themselves in much better shape.
After falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning against the Sussex County Miners, the ValleyCats scored four in their half of the inning. Then survived a bases-loaded, out-out jam in the top of the ninth when closer Trey Cochran-Gill induced Nick Garland into a game-ending double play to give the ValleyCats a 7-5 victory that saw the team wear Albany River Rats jerseys on Hockey Night at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
The ValleyCats improved to 9-6, but manager Pete Incaviglia knows there is more work to be done to make the team better.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface of where we need to be,” Incaviglia said. “We need to get to where we’re playing fundamentally sound defense, pitching, and offense. We’ve gotten away with a few things, we had some great walk-off wins and stuff like that. We need to be consistent every day in all facets of the baseball game, and we’re getting there. We had a ball thrown in right field late. Those little things sometimes can shift the momentum to the other team.
“We have to be fundamentally sound and make all the plays we’re supposed to make and play consistent baseball for a week. Let’s play good sound baseball for a week, not one day and then the next day, you make a few errors. … We need to start being consistent every day.”
Right fielder Carson McCusker agrees.
“We’re still not playing our best baseball yet, so I think there’s a lot more games to be won,” McCusker said.
It certainly didn’t look good for the ValleyCats and starting pitcher Olbis Parra in the top of the first inning. One-out singles by Carson McCurdy and Martin Figueroa put runners at first and second. Spencer Griffin followed with a single to center field to drive in McCurdy. A two-run double by Cito Culver made it 3-0 Miners.
But the ValleyCats bailed Parra out in their half of the first by scoring four runs. Jesus Lujano, who came into the game leading the ValleyCats with a .421 batting average, led off the inning by belting a Ivan Pineyro pitch over the right-center field fence for his first homer of the season.
The ValleyCats scored the rest of their runs in the first with two out. Pavin Parks delivered a two-run single to tie it, and McCusker’s RBI single gave the ValleyCats a 4-3 lead.
“You want to swing the momentum as fast as you can back to us,” Incaviglia said. “The fact that we came back, they scored three and we scored four, that’s huge. It’s a huge momentum shift.”
Parra settled down after that. The right-hander allowed just one more run, an RBI single by Nilo Rijo that bounced off the second base bag in the fourth inning. Parra pitched 5 2-3 innings, struck out 10 and walked three. He threw 108 pitches, 65 for strikes.
“I just focused on making less pitches and just kept focused on the game so the team can get out of the inning,” Parra said through an interpreter. “[The four-run first] was very important because they showed me that they got me and it showed me that I had to go out there and compete.”
The ValleyCats added a run in the second inning on a solo homer by Juan Santana, and got another solo blast by Denis Phipps in the sixth. They added another run in the seventh on an RBI single by Parks.
Cochran-Gill came on with two outs in the eighth after the Miners scored a run in the inning on a throwing error by catcher Daniel Angulo on a dropped third strike. Cochran Gill struck out Harry Fullerton to end the inning.
But Cochran-Gill got himself in a jam in the ninth, loading the bases with one out. He wiggled his way out of it by getting Nick Garland to hit into a 4-6-3 game-ending double play.
“Knock on wood, I usually get a good bit of a ground ball, so I knew I was kind of like one pitch away, so I just wanted to make sure I was down in the zone,” Cochran-Gill said.”
Sussex County 300 100 010 — 5 6 0
Tri-City 410 001 10x — 7 11 2
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