FULTON, KY – Solid pitching has been a staple in the early success of the Farmington Firebirds this season, but on Thursday, clutch defense and consistent hitting carried them to a fourth consecutive victory.
The Firebirds cranked out a season-high 14 hits and turned five double plays in a 10-7 triumph over the Fulton Railroaders in the inaugural meeting between the two KITTY LEAGUE franchises.
Farmington (6-1) remained perfect on the road despite being forced to adjust to the unusual dimensions at Lohaus Field. The right field wall, which sits a mere 250′ from home plate, and the accompanying retaining net which extends high above it combined to turn routine fly balls into home runs, and possible extra-base hits into long singles.
Also highlighting the Firebirds’ victory was the emergence of Adam Howard and Lucas Hulsey from their respective recent slumps at the plate. Howard went 4-for-5 with two doubles, while Hulsey was 2-for-2 with a home run and two RBI off the bench.
“Hooray! They are back,” Firebirds manager Hal Loughary jokingly said. “They are back with their bats and we need them. Adam was involved in several of our runs tonight. If he wasn’t driving them in, he was putting them in position for others to do it. That’s really important for us.”
Fulton (1-6) was the first team to take advantage of the short porch in right when Eric Patton connected for a solo shot in the first inning against Farmington starter Bubba McCoy. The home run occurred just after Howard made a leaping catch on a smashed line drive to his shortstop position, and threw to first base for a double play.
McCoy battled out of a bases-loaded jam in the second inning by inducing a ground ball to himself for another twin-killing. The Railroaders also failed to capitalize on two infield hits in the third, thanks to a long, running catch in the left field corner by Travis Thurston.
The Firebirds broke through with two runs in the fourth inning to take their first lead. Michael Hall walked and advanced to third when a drive to right-center by Howard remained lodged in the net, resulting in a ground-rule double. The bad break would be overcome when catcher Luke Garber delivered a big two-run single to left-center.
The night ended abruptly for Fulton starter Casey Estill after beginning the fifth inning with a walk and hit batsman. A sacrifice bunt by Thurston moved both runners into scoring position, and back-to-back RBI singles by Ben Schnurbusch and Hall increased the Farmington advantage to 4-1.
The Railroaders stormed back to regain the lead with four tallies in the home half of the fifth. Pinch-hitter Zach Parham singled on the first pitch and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Back-to-back walks then proved costly when Matt Rutherford launched a three-run homer just beyond the net to put Fulton ahead 5-4.
McCoy allowed five runs on four walks and seven hits over four and one-third innings, but took a no-decision as the Firebirds promptly rallied in the sixth.
Garber reached on an error and new pitcher Justin Holmes bunted for a single. A Johnny Mitchell sacrifice set up a game-tying RBI hit by Kenny Pikula, and a ground out by Thurston scored Holmes to give the Firebirds a 6-5 lead which they would not relinquish.
Farmington used its power to widen the margin in the seventh. Hall found the right-center wall to his liking with a solo home run to lead off the frame, and Lucas Hulsey connected for a mammoth solo blast to the deep part of the park in left-center with two outs.
Fulton countered with three singles to load the bases in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, John Stang laced a two-run single to the corner in right to make it 8-7, but the Firebirds were able to throw out a runner at third base to end the inning.
The Railroaders ran into another crucial twin-killing when Hulsey threw out a potential base-stealer on a strikeout. The next two batters drew walks, but Caleb Cooley came out of the bullpen to get the final out.
Schnurbusch led off the ninth and scored on a balk after Hall bunted him to third. Howard also doubled and scored to provide more insurance, and Cooley tossed a scoreless home half with the assistance of yet another double play to earn the save. Cooley also notched his first hit of the season with a single in the ninth.
“These kids discipline themselves to stay in a ball game,” added Loughary about his squad. “They stay right in there and keep pecking away with a run here and another run there, and pretty soon they have caught up so they can win it at the end. That’s the way they play.”
Holmes had three strikeouts in two and two-thirds innings of relief to earn the win for Farmington. Miguel Garcia surrendered four runs on five hits in the loss for Fulton.
Hall was 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored, while Schnurbusch finished 2-for-5 and Pikula was 1-for-1. The Firebirds utilized four sacrifice bunts to produce their largest run total to date.
“Sometimes I don’t like to play ‘small-ball’, but you have to get people in scoring position to win,” said Loughary. “In the ninth inning, we bunted our guy to third and their pitcher balked. That was insurance for us.”
The Railroaders were led offensively by three main hitters. Brian Harvey was a perfect 5-for-5 with a double, and Rutherford finished 4-for-5 with two runs scored. Patton scored three runs and went 3-for-4.
The Firebirds will return to action in Fulton at 7 p.m. on Saturday evening as part of KITTY League Fan Appreciation Night.
Farmington 000 222 202 – 10 14 1
Fulton 100 040 200 – 7 14 1
Hitting – Howard 4, Schnurbusch 2, Hall 2, Hulsey 2, Pikula, Garber, Holmes, Cooley. 2b – Howard 2, Schnurbusch. HR – Hall (1), Hulsey (1).
Pitching – McCoy 4 1/3i 5r 7h 1k 4bb, Holmes (W) 2 2/3i 2r 5h 3k 1bb, Byington 2/3i 0r 0h 1k 2bb, Cooley (SV) 1 1/3i 0r 2h 1k 0bb.
Hitting – Harvey 5, Rutherford 4, Patton 3, Stang, Parham. 2b – Harvey. HR – Patton, Rutherford.
Pitching – Estill 4i 4r 3h 3k 3bb 2hb, Cabrera 1i 0r 2h 0k 0bb, Garcia (L) 1 2/3i 4r 2er 5h 0k 0bb, Hernandez 1 1/3i 0r 0h 0k 0bb, Latimer 2i 2r 4h 1k 0bb.