The United Shore Professional Baseball League was back in action on Thursday night as the Utica Unicorns defeated the Eastside Diamond Hoppers 2-1 in 10 innings. It was the league’s sixth game of the inaugural season, which is being played at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, Michigan, and the fans who stayed until the end were rewarded with a great finish.
Last Friday, the Diamond Hoppers put runs on the board in each of the first six innings of the game on way to a 14-0 win over the Unicorns. On Thursday night, it looked like it could be more of the same as left fielder Luke Ortel led off the contest with a single to centerfield. Ortel (2-for-4) advanced to second on a ground out by SS Ricky Castro and then made his way over to third base following an error by Unicorns SS Carlos Gonzalez. The first run of the game came when Ortel and CF Alex Santana, who had reached first base on the Gonzalez error, pulled off a well-executed double steal to put the Diamond Hoppers out in front 1-0.
Thanks largely in part to Unicorns starting pitcher Evan Piechota, Ortel would be the only “Hopper” to cross home plate on what turned out to be a beautiful evening for baseball. Piechota, who is from Livonia, MI, kept the Diamond Hoppers off-balance throughout his six innings of work. In fact, he ended his night with 11 strikeouts, becoming the first pitcher in USPBL history to reach the double-digit strikeout mark in a single game.
Following the game, we were able to catch up with Piechota to get his thoughts on his stellar performance.
“I feel pretty good. I was working on some new stuff and it worked out for me, so I’m happy.” Piechota said.
The Unicorns first run of the game came in the bottom of the fourth inning as they were finally able to get to Diamond Hoppers starter, Dakota Freeze. After retiring the first two batters of the inning, Freeze, who had eight strikeouts in four innings, gave up back-to-back hits to catcher Brian McKenna and SS Carlos Gonzalez and then walked CF Blake Harrell to load the bases. Freeze continued to struggle with his command as he walked 2B Brad Young on four straight pitches, scoring McKenna from third.
In the top of the 10th, with the score knotted 1-1, the Diamond Hoppers looked as though they would take control when they loaded the bases with no outs. But it was not meant to be as Unicorns pitcher Seth Brenner was able to sit down the next three batters in order to get out of the jam.
The Unicorns, who put up 12 hits in the game, finally sealed the deal in the bottom of the 10th inning. LF Chris Cruz (2-for-4 with a walk) and Brian McKenna (2-for-4) led off the inning with singles and both runners advanced a base following a wild pitch by Diamond Hoppers pitcher Kyle Carter. That’s when the worst thing happened for the “Hoppers” as Carter threw yet another wild pitch and Cruz came flying home to score the game-winning run.
Unicorns manager Greg Grall talked about what it was like to win the first extra-inning game in USPBL history.
“Anytime you win a game you always feel good, but I think that’s especially true in this situation.” Grall said. “We’ve had opportunities in a lot of other games to try and get over the hump and this is the one that took us over that hump.”
Grall’s eyes seemed to light up when he was asked about his starter, Evan Piechota and his dominance so far this season.
“Outstanding. He’s not a thrower, he’s a pitcher. Not only that, he’s a bulldog. He goes out there and gets his job done.” Grall said. “It makes my job much easier when you can get a solid outing from him.”
The win moved the Unicorns to 2-1 on the season, 0.5 games behind the Diamond Hoppers, who are now 3-1 after suffering their first loss.
The next USPBL game is scheduled to take place on Friday, June 10th at 7:45 p.m. as the Diamond Hoppers will look to get back on track when the face the Birmingham-Bloomfield Beavers. If you plan on attending the game, make sure to put on your white glove and be ready to dance, as it’s Michael Jackson Night at Jimmy John’s Field. Following the conclusion of the game will be the Friday Night Fireworks display, which is sure to impress once again.