FLORENCE, S.C. – The Florence RedWolves celebrated Christmas in July on Thursday at Sparrow Stadium.
Macon’s relentless offense kept it from being much of a merry one in the opening contest, but an extra-inning victory in the nightcap provided a little (almost) holiday cheer.
Led by a combined six hits and six RBI from Jared Miller and Calvin Estrada, the Bacon earned 13-5 victory in the opener.
Then, after a double play kept Macon from scoring in the top of the eighth, RedWolves newcomer Darius Nobles' sacrifice fly to center field scored Brandon McIlwain with the winning tally in a 4-3 victory.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak against Macon as Florence improved to just 3-9 against the Bacon this season. The RedWolves also improved to 20-25 overall and 10-9 in the second half to pull back within 1 1/5 games of first place in the Southern Division. Macon fell to 27-15 and 10-6.
The two teams will conclude a four-game series today in Macon. The next Florence home game is Monday at 7 p.m. against Savannah.
It was night and day it terms of how the two games played out, with one headlined mostly by pitching and the other offense.
Game 1 was all about offense as Miller and Estrada hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning as the Bacon took a 3-0 lead. The duo did the same thing in the fourth inning as the Bacon grabbed an 8-2 advantage before essentially putting the game out of reach with a four-run fifth inning.
“They swung it really well against us in Game 1,” RedWolves coach Ryan Vruggink said. “We didn’t do a good job of stopping them and allowing us a chance to try to come back.
“We’ve just got to make better pitches in better counts. We’ve got to do a better job of getting ahead of guys.”
To make matters worse, Macon starter Preston Sparks was on point for most of the night. He went five innings, struck out six and allowed three runs on four hits – two of which were home runs.
Brandon McIlwain hit a two-run homer in the first inning for his first long ball of the year and Lenny Gonzalez followed three innings later with his first blast as well.
In between, however, Sparks set down 10 RedWolves in a row. He allowed just five baserunners total.
“(Sparks) is a really good arm and throws a really good changeup,” said Vruggink. “He throws it to (right-handers and left-handers), so it’s a pitch he can get a lot of outs with.”
All of the RedWolves’ runs actually came via the home run, although one was of the Little League variety. McIlwain led off the sixth with a single and went all the way to third on a throwing error. The throw to third also got away, allowing McIlwain to score.
Gonzalez followed two batters later with his second long ball of the day – one that just snuck inside the foul pole down the right field line.
Miguel Soto and Kenny Piper the other hits for Florence.
Game 2 was mostly headlined by pitching. After each team scored in the first, the game was knotted at 1-1 until the bottom of the fifth when Piper hit his third homer of the season to put the RedWolves on top.
The lead didn't last long as Alex Canty and Austin Holloway each stroked RBI singles in the sixth as the Bacon took a 3-2 lead.
That was short-lived too, as a throwing error in the bottom half of the inning set the table for Lex Tuten's sacrifice fly that helped force extra innings.
Connor Holden came on in the eighth for Florence with Coastal Plain League tiebreaker rules in effect and two players already on base. A groundout moved the Bacon's runners into scoring position, but Brandon Ashy hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
Zach Durfee's sacrifice bunt set up the same scenario for the RedWolves in their half of the eighth, but Nobles came through with his first RBI of the season to walk it off for Florence.
Piper led the RedWolves with two hits. Brett Manis pitched two scoreless innings of relief and starter Rashard Coleman allowed just one run on four hits with three walks and a strikeout in four innings.