The South Bend Silver Hawks’ (30-19) offense took charge on Sunday afternoon at Four Winds Field, smacking 13 hits and plating 7 runs in a 7-6 victory over the Lansing Lugnuts (24-25). First baseman Daniel Palka tied the game in the bottom of the seventh with an opposite field homer before left fielder Zach Esquerra singled home the game winning run later in the inning.
Lansing, the Class-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, got on the board first with a run in the top of the third inning. Catcher Jorge Saez led off with a single to center. Hawks starter Blayne Weller then lost the strike zone as he hit second baseman Jason Leblebijian with a pitch and walked left fielder Dickie Joe Thon to load the bases with no outs. After striking out leadoff hitter D.J. Davis, Weller walked designated hitter Chaz Frank on four pitches to force in the first run of the game. Weller recovered to limit the damage as he retired the next two hitters without allowing a second run.
South Bend, the Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, struck back with three runs in the bottom of the third. Third baseman Marty Herum led off the inning with a single to left and shortstop Ryan Gebhardt followed with a hit-and-run single to right that chased Herum around to third base. Center fielder Breland Almadova then beat out an infield single to third that loaded the bases with nobody out. Second baseman Jamie Westbrook lifted a sacrifice fly to right that plated the tying run. Palka came to the plate and laced a double to left that scored Herum and moved Almadova to third. Designated hitter Steve McQuail hit a sacrifice fly to right that scored Almadova to make it 3-1 after three innings.
The Lugnuts closed to 3-2 with a run in the top of the fourth inning. Weller retired the first two batters before walking Saez. Leblebijian followed with a single to left that put runners at first and second. Thon followed by bouncing a single to left that scored Saez and cut the Hawks lead to one run.
South Bend extended their lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Almadova led off with a single to center. After Westbrook flew out to right, Palka collected his second hit of the game with a ground ball single to right that put runners at first and second. With two outs, right fielder Stryker Trahan walked to load the bases. Esquerra then roped a double to left that scored two runs and gave the Hawks a three-run lead.
Weller retired the first two batters of the top of the sixth but left after surrendering a double to Saez. Tom Jameson (W, 1-0) entered the game in relief and promptly gave up a bloop single to Leblebijian that scored Saez and cut the lead to 5-3. Leblebijian was caught stealing to end the inning.
Yeyfry Del Rosario (L, 0-1) came on in relief for the Lugnuts to pitch the bottom of the sixth and threw a scoreless inning, setting up a Lugnuts rally in the top of the seventh inning. Thon led off with a line drive single up the middle. Davis followed by beating out an infield single that put runners at first and second. Frank executed a sacrifice bunt that put the runners at second and third with one out. Right fielder Derrick Loveless singled to left to score Thon and cut the lead to 5-4. First baseman L.B. Dantzler hit into a force-out at second that scored Davis from third to tie the game at 5-5 with two outs. Shortstop Dawel Lugo singled to put runners at first and second and Mitch Nay completed the rally with a double that scored a run and gave the Lugnuts a 6-5 lead.
That lead did not last long. Palka, the first batter of bottom of the seventh, took a 2-1 pitch from Del Rosario the other way and over the left field wall to tie the game at 6-6. With one out, Trahan doubled to right and was then balked over to third. Esquerra then drove in what proved to be the winning. run with a ground ball single up the middle to give the Hawks the 7-6 lead.
Daniel Gibson entered the game in the top of the eighth and struck out the side before turning the ball over to closer Silvino Bracho (S, 6) in the ninth inning. Bracho shut down the Lugnuts in the ninth to keep his ERA at a sterling 0.00 and earn his fifth save in his last five appearances.
The Silver Hawks and Lugnuts continue the series Monday at Four Winds Field, with the first pitch scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Chase De Jong (0-1, 3.72) is set to start for Lansing. Braden Shipley (3-2, 3.86) will take the mound for South Bend. Shipley was the Diamondbacks first round draft pick in 2013.
It’s a Belly Buster Monday, presented by Kayem Foods! Upgrade your ticket for a wristband that includes unlimited hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, and peanuts during the game, all for $15.
Memorial Day is Military Appreciation Day at the ballpark. Courtesy of the Silver Hawks and Four Winds Casino Resort, all active military and veterans will be admitted to Monday’s game for free. Present your military ID at the Silver Hawks box office to receive your free ticket.