The Tri-City ValleyCats opened defense of their New York-Penn League championship Friday night with flawless defense, despite taking no infield for the past 48 hours.
The ValleyCats beat the Connecticut Tigers, 3-2, with solid pitching from starter Austin Chrismon and small-ball at-bats from the top of their lineup. Behind Chrismon, returning third baseman Adam Nelubowich, a rookie middle infielder and first-time first baseman recorded 14 of the 27 outs despite seeing their first ground balls at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium coming at them live in the season opener.
“We took infield two days ago, I think,” Tri-City manager Ed Romero said. “And not everybody was here. In fact, [Adam] Everett, who is our infield instructor, had to take infield at shortstop because we didn’t have anybody. I was totally glad to see what happened tonight, especially with the defense.”
Shortstop Mott Hyde got to Troy the day before the opener after being drafted in the 26th round last week, and second baseman Nick Tanielu was drafted in the 14th. First baseman Ariel Ovando was playing his first pro game at the position after coming into training camp as an outfielder.
“Our defense was awesome. The shortstop made some good plays, Ovando at first base made some outstanding picks,” Romero said. “He’s never played there before. That’s the first game he ever plays at first base in his career. We worked with him at spring training, got him ready, and I was the one who worked with him. I saw he’s got good hands, and he’s nice and smooth and loose. He’s going to be all right.”
“The guys coming in, who just signed, did a great job,” Nelubowich said. “Some of the guys have never even stood on the infield before, and they’re out there playing. Mott did a great job at short, Nick Tanielu at second. Ovando hasn’t played a whole lot at first, and he looked just fine over there.”
Nelubowich twice led off an inning with a hit, a single in the third and a double in the seventh, turning over the lineup so the top could move him around.
The Tigers struggled against the bunt in the bottom of the third inning. After Nelubowich singled through the left side, Marc Wik tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt. It rocketed out to Connecticut pitcher Chase Edwards, who spun to throw to second, but shortstop David Gonzalez missed the bag before throwing to first, where Wik was safe. Then Hyde laid a bunt down the third-base line, and Edwards fielded it again, turning to third base, where nobody was covering, before throwing to first, where Hyde was safe.
With the bases loaded, Tanielu sent a sacrifice fly to right field to plate Nelubowich. After Terrell Joyce’s groundout moved the remaining runners to second and third, Ravel Santana sent a single to shallow center field. Wik scored from third and Hyde was thrown out easily at the plate trying to score from second.
The ValleyCats squared around again in the home seventh after Nelubowich led off with a double. Wik bunted him over to third, then he was on the run as Hyde laid down a bunt to the right side, scoring as relief pitcher Daryl Norris threw to first.
Hyde finished 2-for-3 with an RBI, settling in after his first pro at-bat.
“My first at-bat, I feel like I was a little too amped up, swinging at everything,” Hyde said of his first-inning strikeout. “I kind of just needed to calm down, tone it down a little bit and relax.”
Chrismon (1-0) lasted five innings, striking out four, walking none and allowing one run on two hits.