The Freedom Division race became much closer on Tuesday evening.
Sugar Land dropped the Lancaster Barnstormers, 6-4, in the opener of a three-game series at Clipper Magazine Stadium while Southern Maryland took care of York, 5-4, with a walkoff win at Regency Furniture Stadium.
With less than four weeks left in the first half, the Barnstormers now hold only a 1 ½ game lead over the Blue Crabs while the Skeeters trail by just two.
In Lancaster, two three-run innings spelled the downfall of the host Barnstormers.
Hector Olivera led off the third with a single to left, and Derek Miller followed with a single to center off Rommie Lewis (2-5). Wilfredo Rodriguez battled back from on 0-2 count to work out a walk, loading the bases. Joe Benson knocked home two with a double off the vinyl signs in right. Rodriguez crossed the plate with a third run on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Giansanti.
After the Barnstormers narrowed the gap to 3-2 on doubles by Blake Gailen and Anderson De La Rosa in the bottom of the fourth, the Skeeters struck again in the fifth with plenty of assistance from the Barnstormers defense.
Rodriguez led off with a single up the middle and moved to second when third baseman Garrett Weber made a diving stop on top of third base on a Benson grounder. Giansanti tacked on a single to put runners at the corners. Kevin Ahrens stroked a grounder to Weber, and the Barnstormers apparently had Rodriguez in a rundown. He was allowed to escape, diving back to third.
With the bases loaded, Andy Wilkins grounded to the right side. Second baseman Rico Noel allowed the ball to get through him as two runs scored. Kaohi Downing took over out of the bullpen and got Josh Prince to fly out to center. Bryan Pounds’ grounder to the right side was misplayed by Sean Halton as the third run of the inning scored.
Lancaster countered with a two-run homer by Blake Gailen in the bottom of the eighth. The Barnstormers got another chance in the ninth as Darian Sandford picked up a two-out walk, and Noel rolled a single up against the third base bag. Sugar Land went to lefty Dustin Richardson to combat Caleb Gindl. Following a double steal, Gindl flied out to center to end the game.
The game was not without its controversial and scary moments. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, Gindl was called out on strikes on a 3-2 pitch. The same happened to K.C. Hobson, who was ejected from the game.
Benson was hit in the earflap by Downing in the top of the sixth. After undergoing concussion protocols and receiving quick treatment on a laceration near the earlobe, Benson remained in the game.
The two clubs meet again on Wednesday evening. Lancaster will send left-hander Jarret Leverett (3-0) to the plate against right-hander Bobby Blevins (4-1) in a matchup of former Long Island Ducks.
NOTES: The season series is even at 4-4…Lancaster lost for only the fourth time this season when scoring the first run of the game…Lancaster was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position…Threw of the five strikeouts for Sugar Land pitching came with a runner at third base and fewer than two outs…The three errors by the Lancaster defense tied a season high…Lancaster’s bullpen threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings on three hits and seven strikeouts.