For the bulk of his career, Rico Noel has been an outfielder with a scattering of action in the infield.
That is changing.
The new Barnstormers second baseman made a diving stop of a Dan Lyons ground ball in the bottom of the ninth to protect a one-run lead as Lancaster defeated the Long Island Ducks, 4-3, in the opener of a four-game series at Bethpage Ballpark.
Alex Burg greeted Anthony Carter with a single to left field. Long Island went to Anthony Vega as a pinch runner. He was unable to move as Cody Puckett flied out to center for the first out, but Carter walked Delta Cleary, Jr, moving the tying run into scoring position and putting the winning run at first. Lyons hit a scorcher that got through Carter, but Noel made the diving stop and a clean backhanded flip to shortstop Vladimir Frias for the force out on Cleary. Fehlandt Lentini grounded out routinely to Noel for the final out of the game as Carter secured his sixth save.
All of the game’s runs scored in the first four innings. Darian Sandford and Noel opened the game with singles. Sandford scored on a force play grounder by Caleb Gindl, beating a relay throw to the plate by Lyons. Gindl moved to second as the throw kicked away from Burg. Keith Couch (0-2) balked the runner to third, and GIndl scored when Lyons mishandled K.C. Hobson’s grounder.
The Barnstormers tacked on another run in the second, loading the bases on singles by Anderson De La Rosa, Sandford and Noel. Gindl knocked home the run with a long sacrifice fly to right.
Vladimir Frias singled home the fourth, and final, run for the Barnstormers, who picked up 13 hits on the night but left 12 runners on base, in the third.
Elih Villanueva (4-1) retired the first seven batters he faced before getting out of a bases loaded jam in the third. Long Island reached him for three runs in the fourth. Elmer Reyes led off with a double over Gindl’s head in right, and Marc Krauss followed with a double down the right field line. One out later, Puckett cracked a two-run homer down the left field line to narrow Lancaster’s lead to one. Lyons picked up a two-out double before Lentini popped out to end the inning.
Villanueva got the side in order in the fifth. John Anderson, Scott Shuman and Cody Hall each pitched a scoreless inning of relief to hold the lead until the ninth.
The Barnstormers and Ducks play a day-night doubleheader on Saturday. Jarret Leverett (1-0) makes the start in the opener (1:05) against Dennis O’Grady (1-1). Brad Bergesen (2-2) and Tim Melville square off in the nightcap (6:35). Fans may listen to both games on the Lancaster Barnstormers YouTube Channel.
NOTES: Sandford extended his hitting streak to nine and stole his 25th base on the season…Blake Gailen picked up his 492nd and 493rd hits as a Barnstormer…He is four shy of all-time ‘Stormer hits leader Jutt Hileman…The Barnstormers’ last hit was a double by Gindl in the sixth, extending the streak of games with at least one extra base hit to 34.