DANVILLE — Friday night’s Prospect League matchup between the Danville Dans and the Springfield Sliders turned into a test of who was going to blink first.
Both pitching rotations were dealing their way around every hitter, out of every jam and through a plethora of other situations entering the latter stages of the game, with simultaneous shutouts being thrown from each pitching staff going up until the sixth inning.
But in baseball, it often takes just a few fortunate plays to shift the tide in a team’s favor.
On this night, that shift went in the Dans favor en route to a 15-2 win.
Alabama senior-to-be Walker McCleney broke a five-inning drought of Dans reaching base after being hit by a pitch in the sixth, while Max Jung-Goldberg sent him home from second base two batters later to break the deadlock.
But it was Danville’s monster seventh inning that showcased what the Dans do best as the league’s best-hitting club: scoring runs and capitalizing on opponent mistakes. Four errors and shaky pitching from the Sliders cost them dearly as Danville sent a total of 14 batters to the plate in a 10-run inning.
That type of offensive firepower — in addition to some upstart pitching — is why the Dans are sitting pretty atop the Prospect League at the moment and why head coach Eric Coleman believes they have a shot for a special season.
“It’s a long way to go, but I think that we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Coleman said. “It was a good pitcher who just kept us off balance early ... but once we get in people’s bullpens, we’re going to take advantage of it. Putting up a crooked number is always nice.”
The most emphatic of Danville’s 12 hits on the night came from Towson senior-to-be and first baseman Brad Powers, whose grand slam in the eighth inning turned a nine-run lead into 13.
What’s more is that the homer came from a set of unlikely circumstances.
Powers’s bat slipped wildly out of his hands earlier in the at-bat, in addition to him saying that he didn’t think he got a good swing on the run-scoring hit
“I hit it kind of like a nine-iron,” he said.
Nonetheless, one of the league’s best all-around hitters cleared the right field wall for his sixth home run of the year. But Powers credited it more to a calming habit of his, rather than his impressive talent.
“This might sound a little silly, but I chew gum at the plate and it helps me relax a little bit,” Powers said. “Considering that my sweaty hands let go of the bat the pitch before, I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not going to look like an idiot here.’ When I’m relaxed, I see pitches better ... and small things like that in baseball can make a big difference.”
Coleman also praised another strong pitching performance from the Danville rotation. Starter Tanner Green and reliever Will Morrison each went four innings and allowed a combined seven hits while Cypress College junior-to-be Trevor Thompson hurled a hitless ninth inning to seal the deal.
It’s been an impressive week thus far for the Dans’ pitching staff: Danville struck out 20 Terre Haute Rex batters in a home win Tuesday, then notched their first shutout of the summer in the back-half of a doubleheader sweep at the Champion City Kings on Wednesday.
If the pitching form stays and gets anywhere near Danville’s talent at the plate — they’re league leaders in batting average, runs and runs batted in — the Dans are going to be a dangerous team as the end of the summer winds down.
“You never know, it’s still early,” Powers said. “We have everything set up for something special to happen, we’ve just got to make it happen. It’s easy to say that it’s going to happen, but then something bad happens. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. Staying focused, staying confident and having fun.”
Danville and Springfield are scheduled to meet again tonight at Danville Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. and fireworks will follow the game.
DANS ON DECK
Final score — Danville Dans 15, Springfield Sliders 2
Key player — First baseman Brad Powers went 2-for-4 with five RBIs including an eighth-inning grand slam.
Up next — The Dans are back at home tonight against the Springfield Sliders. First pitch at Danville Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m.
Probable starters — Springfield: LHP Rob Parks (0-3, 6.04 ERA); Danville: LHP Dawson Sweatt (1-1, 4.07 ERA)
Promotion No. 1 — Balloons over Vermilion first-pitch flyover.
Promotion No. 2 — Fireworks after the game.