GARY, IN. — The Gary SouthShore RailCats scored four runs in the first two innings, but the rest of the day belonged to the Rockford RiverHawks, who scored four times in the top of the sixth inning to earn an 8-5 win Monday afternoon at U. S. Steel Yard in the first ever Northern League game between the two teams.
One of two new teams in the Northern League this year, Rockford’s Jono Brooks hit a tie-breaking three-run home run to cap the four-run sixth and give the RiverHawks a lead they would not relinquish. After two big early innings from the RailCats, four Rockford pitchers combined to no-hit the ‘Cats over the last six innings, at one point retiring 13 consecutive hitters.
RailCats starter Ryan Zink also settled into a groove after a shaky first inning, when he put the first three men on courtesy two walks and a single, and allowed two runs. Zink struck out Elvin Millan, Jr. to end the first and that would start a stretch of seven strikeouts in 11 batters for Zink, who retired 14 of the last 16 men he faced. The former UIC standout was charged with four earned runs in 5.1, despite allowing only three hits.
The RailCats tied the score in the bottom of the first inning when Mike Massaro and Mike Rohde got on to start things and sat at second and third with one out for Cristian Guerrero, who drove both runs home with a single through the Rockford infield. Tanner Townsend led off the second with a ringing double to left, and Louis Ott followed with a double off the wall in right to make it 3-2. Ott would come around to score later in the inning on an Adam Klein groundout.
Rockford’s Randall Simon homered to lead off the fourth to cut the lead to one, and the RiverHawks took command against RailCats reliever Jeff Williams (0-1) in the sixth. Williams, acquired early in the day in a trade with the American Association’s Grand Prairie Air Hogs, got the second out of the inning before any damage was done, but walked Jake Eigsti to put runners at first and second. Millan followed with a bloop base hit to right, tying the game, and Brooks followed one man later with the game-winning homer.
Klein manufactured a RailCats run in the eighth, walking to lead off, stealing second, and scoring on a pair of groundouts, but the RailCats went down quietly in the ninth against Rockford closer Scott Roehl.
Brett Durand (1-0) recovered from his rough start to earn his first win, and Roehl’s save was his second. Rockford got single hits from eight different players, while Guerrero had two of the RailCats five hits.
The RailCats (1-4) wrap up their six-game homestand Tuesday morning with another 11 a.m. game against Rockford (4-1). Opening Day starters will return, as Willie Glen (0-0, 4.50 ERA) gets the start against former Major Leaguer Mike Wood (0-1, 4.50 ERA). The game will be broadcast live on 89.1 FM, The Lakeshore, and online at www.railcatsbaseball.com.
Notes: Monday’s game was the first of two Kids Days at The Steel Yard, with a crowd of 4,157 – mostly local schoolchildren – on hand to watch … Zink’s seven strikeouts are tied for the most by any Northern League pitcher in an outing this year … the RiverHawks have won four straight games since an Opening Night loss and are in sole possession of first place in the league, one year after defecting from the Frontier League … Williams, a former Frontier League closer, was picked up by the RailCats Monday for cash considerations from Grand Prairie. The RailCats had an open roster spot after Tom Thornton was placed on the disabled list with a left arm injury.