WELLSVILLE – It goes without saying that the Wellsville Nitros are off to an incredible start to the season in the year 2018. With a 7-2 record going into Tuesday’s contest against the Cortland Crush, another win would cushion the Western Division driver’s seat they sat in on top of Rochester, Genesee, and Olean.
Like some of the games they have played already, it was one the Nitros had to earn. When the final frame came around, their lead was only down to one.
All the pressure in the world, and Wellsville ate it up.
With the bases jammed and nobody out in the top of the ninth, the Crush faced their biggest opportunity to take the lead away from Wellsville for the first time in the game. Instead, the Nitros said no, as they came up with a J.D. Isbell double play, and a game-ending 5-3 putout to strand all the runners, escaping from Cortland’s grasp with a narrow 8-7 win to earn their seventh victory in eight games.
“I got to give credit to them, they weren’t going to quit. We had that big inning, and there’s a positive and negative to it. The positive is the bats, but the mentality of the defense and pitcher is the negative,” said Nitros manager Tucker Hughes. “You’re sitting the bench, and you zone out a little bit. You go back out there, and you’re not as fresh. The momentum shifted to our offense, as funny as that sounds. We preach grit and resiliency and competing, and we did all three of those things today.”
Nitros pitcher Quin O’Hara was a key cog in the machine through the first three innings of play, allowing just one hit with five chairs handed out. It would allow Wellsville (8-2) to break out at the plate, as they broke the ice in the bottom of the second with a Dustan Dille single into right to score Isbell for a 1-0 lead.
After another 1-2-3 in the third by the defense, the Nitros added to their lead in the bottom half, as Andres Perez cashed in on an infield single to score Danny Lowry from third. But the Crush (4-5) were able to catch on in the next inning.
The two-run lead shrunk to just one in the fourth, as Alex Flock delivered an RBI single that scored Nelson Laviosa from third after Cortland loaded the bags behind the Wellsville defense. The hosts were able to escape the jam however, as they managed to collect a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play.
The defensive momentum quickly shifted to the plate.
The Nitros would blow through their lineup one full time through the bottom half of the fourth, scoring six runs across five hits, including a big two-run single into left off the bat of Lowry to open the floodgates. Perez, Isbell, and Chandler Palyas all had RBI hits to add in the frame. Cyrus Grimes scored the last off an infield error.
It was safe to say that the Wellsville bats that have put the entire NYCBL on notice earlier this season, re-ignited with four different hitters recording at least a pair of hits each. Lowry finished with a team-leading three hits. Perez, Isbell, and Dille had two hits to add, with Dille driving in a pair.
“We don’t do that very often,” said Hughes on the big inning. “I preach to them that we have to get a big inning. A big inning to me is three, four runs. If we can produce more than that, great. We have a philosophy that we wanted to play freely and fearlessly. We wanted to hit the balls in our zone during BP, and being able to drive it. That’s exactly what we did.”
But as fast as Wellsville had the big inning, the response Cortland provided was even quicker.
The Crush didn't back down in the top of the fifth, as the visitors in orange and purple scored a five-run onslaught, all coming with no outs on the board. They would force O’Hara off the mound after cutting the deficit in half by an 8-4 count behind three straight RBI hits.
O’Hara finished the day with his five strikeouts across four innings. Hughes said the team’s big inning may have played a factor.
“We’ve been talking to Quin, and through those four innings, that was the Quin we needed in every outing,” Hughes said of his ace. “I truly think that the big inning caused him to lose rhythm. It happens. I told him not to hang his head about it, but that’s the positive and negative coming back into play again.”
All of a sudden, the Crush were back to within a pair of runs after five complete innings. It would remain the same tally all the way to the eighth inning, when Cortland cut the lead back down to just one behind a sacrifice fly to Palyas in center by Laviosa.
It set up an exciting finish to behold in the top of the ninth. Cortland collected another fast start by loading the bases behind the Nitros defense. After a quick conversation on the mound, Wellsville officially went into endgame mode, as Isbell collected the game’s biggest double play off a pop-out, and catching the third base runner off guard with a throw to third.
Just an at-bat later, John Benevolent fired a fielded grounder back to Isbell at first to record the final out for Wellsville, as they staved off a very late Cortland push to stay in the win column.
Helping preserve the win on the mound for Wellsville, was Drew Mead, who went four innings of relief with two strikeouts, and three walks. Nick Hertz came on for the save in the ninth, walking just one Cortland batter.
With the victory, the Nitros are off to their best start in recent memory through 10 games, as they move to an 8-2 record on the season. Their previous best start through 10 games happened all the way back in 2007, when the team went unbeaten through that stretch.
In his first season back, Hughes credits the culture he and his coaches implanted, which has his team buying in.
“It’s exciting. It’s one of the goals for me coming back here,” he said. “I want to compete for an NYCBL Championship. We come in here, and we set the culture for these guys. They have truly have bought into it, and it speaks with the Ws. Even the losses we had, I can’t complain, we competed in those games. Every team in this league is competitive, so we’re going to have to come out every day, and grind.”
The Nitros will go for their eighth win in nine games, and their third straight this morning, as they host Kids Day festivities at the ballpark by welcoming in the Rochester Ridgemen in for a visit before a trip to Rome on Friday.
“They’re having a heck of a season so far,” said Hughes. “With it being a morning game, we need to have our a-game ready. We’ll see how we adapt to it, we won a morning game earlier in the year against Hornell, so we’ll keep that same mentality that we’ve had every game – see every pitch, win every pitch.”
Cortland 000 150 010 – 7 14 2 Wellsville 011 600 00X – 8 11 0
C – Brian Wojichowski (LP) (2K, 3BB), Shane Epps (4) (K, 2BB), Mike Viveiros (8) (BB), and Justin Valentino, Garrett Hunter (7). W – Quin O’Hara (WP) (5K), Drew Mead (5) (3K, 4BB), Nick Hertz (9) (BB), and Aaron Brush, Dusty Rogers (6).