By Brian Lester
It can be said without question that the Pensacola Blue Wahoos missed out on a golden opportunity Saturday night against the Mississippi Braves.
They had the bases loaded in the ninth, no one out and a sellout crowd cheering loudly as they attempted to overcome a one-run deficit and secure a big Southern League win.
But the Blue Wahoos failed to cash in, failing to come up with the clutch hit they needed to earn a thrilling win, and wound up suffering a 1-0 loss in front of 5,038 fans at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.
Lately, Pensacola has been winning games, returning home riding the high of a four-game win streak. On this night, the story was different.
“The way things have been going lately, we’ve been winning those type of games,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “We had the bases loaded, nobody out and just couldn’t do anything. I thought Kyle (Skipworth) really battled in his at-bat, but (Ryan) Kelly pitched with a lot of confidence.”
Skipworth, who came through with two of Pensacola’s six hits, fouled off several pitches before striking out for the first out of the ninth. Juan Perez popped the ball up in the infield and Ray Chang struck out looking as the game came to a close.
Managing only three hits in the first eight innings, the Blue Wahoos (15-21) came to life in the ninth against the Braves, who got their only tally on a solo home run by David Rohm in the first.
Marquez Smith led off with a base hit to center, Kyle Waldrop extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single and Seth Mejias-Brean laid down a perfect bunt that loaded up the bases.
But with Kelly pitching well en route to earning his ninth save, the Blue Wahoos’ hopes for a victory faded.
“There is a reason why he has so many saves. He made some nice pitches,” Kelly said.
Of course, Kelly didn’t agree with some of the calls the umpire made on pitches. He was thrown out while arguing strike calls in the fifth, kicking dirt over the plate before walking off the field to a standing ovation.
“Neither team was happy with the strike zone,” Kelly said. “They were a little too sensitive to what I said.”
Great defense also played a role in the Braves’ success against the Blue Wahoos, who lost for only the second time in their last nine games. Mississippi improved to 19-16.
“That is what the Braves do. they pitch and play defense,” Kelly said. “We didn’t create a lot of opportunities for ourselves tonight.”
Pensacola made its share of stellar defensive plays as well to keep itself in the game.
Matt Kennelly was thrown out at home in the fourth as Beau Amaral rifled a throw from the outfield to Kyle Skipworth, who applied the tag as Kennelly slid into the plate.
In the seventh, Perez snagged a ball, dropped it momentarily, and then threw out Rio Ruiz at first. Later that inning, Waldrop dove and slid in right field as he robbed Emerson Landoni of what would have been an extra-base hit.
But one moment defined this game, and that was the homer Keyvius Sampson gave up in the first. Rohm belted the pitch over the wall in left. It was one of only three hits Sampson allowed in six innings of work. He struck out five as he fell to 1-2 on the season.
“Giving up that early run wasn’t ideal, but it’s something I need to nip in the butt,” Sampson said. “I tried to pitch as well as I could to give my team a chance to win. You never want to let one pitch, one hit, decide the game, but it happens. Just have to come back out and play better the next time.”
Read more about the Blue Wahoos in Thursday’s edition of the Navarre Press. Pick up your copy of the print edition or subscribe here.