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Columbia defeats Martinsville 4-1
Mustangs drop sixth straight
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Martinsville’s Eric Renegar (right) makes a force out at second base and turns to make the double play at first base as Columbia’s Erik Barber slides into second base in the first inning of a Coastal Plain League baseball game on Saturday at Hooker Field. The Mustangs lost 4-1. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

By CHRIS PRIDE - Bulletin Sports Writer

Saturday night was Strike Out Cancer Night at Hooker Field presented by Martinsville Memorial Hospital. And the Martinsville Mustang hitters were happy to oblige by striking out 10 times.

To say it’s been a difficult week for the Mustangs would be an understatement, but in the end, it’s been ultimately taxing on Martinsville’s starting pitchers.

Saturday was no different.

Another quality start by a Mustang starter was wasted Saturday as the Martinsville offense was once again anemic in a 4-1 loss to Columbia. It was the sixth straight loss for the Mustangs, matching their longest streak of the season, and it capped a 1-7 week.

Mustangs (6-17) starter Kevin Sweeney took another hard-luck loss, going 61?3 innings giving up nine hits and three runs, striking out two and walking one. In 86 pitches, he threw 20 first-pitch strikes to the 28 batters faced and was able to keep his team in the game into the seventh inning.

“It’s difficult, but wins can be an overrated stat (for pitchers). I’m not going to say it isn’t, but you can’t look too much into that category. We have to look at what we’re doing and be as efficient as we can as starting pitchers,” Sweeney said. “We’ve done a good job overall and I’m proud to be apart of this staff. It’s just a tough time for the team. Teams go through slumps, we’ll bust out here soon.

“That’s part of being mentally tough, this game really tests your mental fortitude and in this situation, we’re being tested. A lot of us have gone through difficult stretches and we know how to endure and will come out stronger.”

Mustangs manager Matt Duffy has now seen his team lose 15 of its last 18 games. Sweeney finally ran into trouble in the seventh when the first two batters reached on infield hits. After a sacrifice bunt moved runners to second and third with one out, Michael Wilson ripped a 2-2 pitch to center on the seventh pitch of the at bat to break a 1-1 tie and give Columbia a 3-1 lead.

“It was just tough luck and I feel that’s the story of our season, tough luck,” Sweeney said. “If one of those two little infield hits don’t happen then it’s completely different situation, and I approach the hitter differently.”

The Blowfish (13-10) then added another run in the ninth on a Connor Lewis sac fly to produce the final score.

“The way all these games have been going, especially for us, we’re not a team that’s going to go out and score six, seven or eight runs every night,” Columbia manager Jonathan Johnson said.

“The key to us winning every night is getting those key hits. We get guys on base, but we’re not going to be a big doubles or home run hitting team, even though we got one tonight. But for the most part we have to get those two-out hits and sac-flies. That’s what it takes to win ball games.”

With an early run in the first on a pair of hits — including an RBI single by Matt LaRocca — it looked like the Martinsville offense would break out of its slump. It only proved to be mirage as Columbia starter Cord Cockrell settled in from the second through the fifth inning.

Cockrell allowed no hits in the next four innings, finishing with six strikeouts and no walks and allowing just those two first-inning hits in five innings of work. On a strict pitch count, Cockrell was pulled after 65 pitches through five. The Blowfish relief staff was equally impressive, allowing just two hits in four innings and adding four more strikeouts to the overall total.

“We’re building (Cockrell’s) innings up to be a starter. I had to bring him in as a reliever two nights ago because we had a couple guys injured,” said Johnson.

“So he wasn’t real fresh tonight and I didn’t want him past about 60 to 75 pitches, because he was coming back starting with four days off. I told him coming in that I just wanted him to give us four or five solid innings. The bullpen came in and finished the last four innings and it was a great job by them as well.”

DC Arendas tied the game at 1-1 in the third inning by taking a Sweeney offering over the fence in right. Sweeney then was able to strand five runners over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to keep his team in the game. However, his offense was unable to provide any support finishing with four hits in the game.

Besides putting up six runs a loss to Thomasville on Thursday, the other six losses during the week featured a combined three runs, getting shutout 7-0 on Wednesday at Fayetteville and 2-0 in the second game of a doubleheader at Thomasville on Monday.

“We just need a break out game, and it’s amazing in baseball — you can go through a stretch like this and then come out and win a game 10-0,” Sweeney said. “I think we can easily do that one of these games and when it happens we’ll be a whole new team. We’re very talented and we’ll be just fine.”

NOTES: After the third inning, Mustangs president Jesse Cole helped honor cancer survivors with a walk around the bases. The Mustangs’ pink and black-trimmed jerseys were auctioned off at the end of the game to raise money for cancer research.


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