Turks … Again

06/30/2011 – Daily News Record

Another Rally, Another Win Written by Mike Barber Sports Department, Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – Patrick Christensen enjoys pitching the final innings of tight baseball games. As the closer for the Harrisonburg Turks, he’s had ample opportunity.

Harrisonburg rallied for a 5-3 win – its sixth straight victory – closing out Woodstock with a scoreless ninth inning from Christensen, who nailed down his team-leading fourth save of the summer.

“I enjoy it a ton,” Christensen – a right-hander from LaSalle – said. “Going out there and being in a pressure situation is what I love to do.”

Apparently, he’s not alone. The first-place Turks have established a reputation for late-game heroics and Wednesday night’s win did nothing to dispel that notion.

With one out and two on in the bottom of the seventh and the game tied 2-2, Dodson McPherson (Wingate) hit a sinking line drive to center that bounced under the glove of a diving Kalei Hanawahine, scooting back to the fence and allowing both runs to score. McPherson ended up with a triple and the Turks (18-5) led 4-2.

“I squared it up pretty good, it had some backspin, so I thought it was going to carry out to him,” McPherson said. “When I was rounding first I was like, ‘Oh no. He’s catching that ball.’ But it got down and luckily it got by him.”

Harrisonburg tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, scoring when Woodstock right fielder Scott Liske dropped J.J. Loker’s fly ball that would have been the third out.

Scoring three runs in their final three innings is nothing new for Harrisonburg.

Eight of the team’s 23 games have been decided by three runs or fewer. The Turks have scored more than half (80) of their 152 runs this year in the sixth inning or later. In innings 1-5, Harrisonburg has outscored opponents 72-46.

After the fifth inning, the Turks are dominant, holding an 80-45 edge over the final four innings. They won three games in which they trailed after eight innings.

“We honestly believe that when we get to the last couple of innings, if we’re within a run or two, it’s still our ballgame,” Turks owner/manager Bob Wease said. “That’s the difference between being a mediocre team and being a pretty good team. And that’s what we are. We’re a pretty good team this year.”

Harrisonburg’s pitching and defense has been able to keep the team in games long enough for the offense to produce.

Niko Spezial (Wake Forest) gave up two runs on seven hits and four walks in six effective-though-unspectacular innings. Spezial surrendered four of those hits in the first inning, but limited the River Bandits (8-15) to just one run.

The best play Spezial made all game may have been the ball he didn’t catch. With a run already in in the first inning, Woodstock’s Bobby Johnson lined a ball into left field. McPherson picked up the ball on a bounce and fired to home to try and cut down Michael Vinson, who was heading toward the plate. Spezial jumped to cut off the throw but pulled back his glove at the last second. The ball carried on to catcher Blake Austin (Auburn), who scooped it out of the dirt on a hop and held on after a collision with Vinson.

Spezial also pitched his way out of a serious jam in the second inning. He walked the first three batters he faced before getting the next three to fly out without a run scoring.

From there, Harrisonburg turned things over to its bullpen.

Nine of the Turks’ wins this year have come from relief pitchers. Wednesday, it was Dominic Sgroi (LaSalle), who earned the victory by pitching a scoreless seventh inning.

Ryan Chapman (Rio Grande) pitched the eighth, giving up one run on two hits.

Christensen threw a 1-2-3 ninth for the save, giving Harrisonburg a win on a day it rested three of its regulars with minor injuries.

“He’s the best closer in the Valley League, by far,” Wease said.

Woodstock 100 010 010 – 3 10 3

Harrisonburg 000 200 21x – 5 6 0

Valente, Rhodes (6), Hatley (7) and Burkett; Spezial, Sgroi (7), Chapman (8), Christensen (9) and Austin. W- Sgroi (2-0). L- Rhodes (1-4). S- Christensen (4).