For the second consecutive night, the Madison Mallards got strong starting pitching and a big home run off the bat of Ben Long, a combination that produced an 8-5 victory Wednesday over the Waterloo Bucks.
Joe Yermal, a sophomore from UNC-Charlotte, pitched six innings and allowed just two runs on five hits to earn his first victory of the season just hours after arriving in Madison.
“I just got in here this morning at 1:30 a.m.,” Yermal said. “I had to go get some sleep after that to get ready for tonight, but it was a good opportunity to pitch at home. Making your first start at home is always a big key.”
Madison provided Yermal with a 2-0 lead early, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning.
Leadoff hitter Kurtis Muller got things going with an infield single and would later advance to second on a wild pitch. Joe De Pinto followed with a single through the infield and while Muller initially was held at third, he would score on a throwing error on the play. De Pinto came around two batters later on a groundout to short by Troy Channing.
Waterloo cut the lead to one run in the third with back-to-back two-out singles and a stolen base. Willie Argo singled and stole second before being driven in by Michael Giller, who reached on an infield single.
Thanks to Long, however, the score would not remain close for more than an inning. With two on and two out in the bottom of the third, the junior catcher hit a three-run home run to the opposite field, giving the Mallards a comfortable 5-1 lead.
“It was great. I just saw a pitch up that I could drive … went with the pitch and it went over the fence,” Long said. “I actually thought the right fielder was going to catch that one with that short porch in right field but it just got over.”
It was Long’s second home run in as many games and his third of the season for the Mallards. He now has nine runs batted in and though his average dropped after going 1-for-3 at the plate Wednesday, it remains an impressive .583 (14-for-24) on the year.
Long began the season signed to just a 10-day contract, but with the way he has played, the Mallards certainly would not mind keeping him around a little longer.
“We’d love to have him here, and I think if we get the opportunity we will,” manager C.J. Thieleke said. “There’s some funny things with the league and the way the roster is maintained. We’d have to lose some guys to the draft maybe or an injury to keep Ben, but we want to keep him around obviously.”
The Bucks struck again in the fifth with a solo home run to left off the bat of second baseman Tyler Robbins, cutting the Mallards lead to 5-2. Madison answered back in the sixth with three more runs sparked by singles from Jerrud Sabourin and Adam McClain.
Waterloo starter Rick Dodridge finally exited with two on and two out in the inning, finishing with 7 runs (6 earned) allowed on nine hits in 5.2 innings to take the loss.
Sabourin, who was playing in his first game with the Mallards this season, went 3-for-3 on the night and was one of seven Madison players to score a run in the game, which proved to be a true team effort for the Mallards.
“I thought it was a pretty good, clean effort from everybody,” Thieleke said. “The first week of the season is in the books, and it’s not a bad start for us.”
Brandon Wikoff also saw his first action of the season for the Mallards in the game, replacing an injured Chris Barker who started the game in left and batted ninth for Madison. Barker was hit on his right elbow for the third time this week and was removed from the game prior to his at-bat in the third inning in favor of Wikoff, who stayed in the game to play shortstop.
With an 8-3 lead heading into the ninth, it appeared to be nothing more than a formality for reliever Kevin Cahill, who came on in a non-save situation. Cahill and the Bucks hitters made things interesting, however, plating two runs on one hit and three walks in the frame.
And though the tying run came to the plate, Yermal remained confident in Cahill.
“The bullpen looks good; they just come in and do their thing,” Yermal said. “I knew Cahill was going to come in and close the door. That’s what he’s supposed to do and he got it done.”
Madison and Waterloo will square off again Thursday at the Duck Pond. Cody Winiarski will take the hill against Scott Williams for the Bucks as the Mallards look to extend their winning streak and sweep a second consecutive two-game set at home.