MIDLAND, Mich. – Even when the Great Lakes Loons lost their 5th consecutive game during last week's road trip, Manager Luis Matos never lost faith in his team's pitching staff.
Led by starter Brock Stewart, Loons pitchers collectively gained and kept control of Thursday's game, which Great Lakes won 5-4 against the Dayton Dragons on the second of two Kids Days at Dow Diamond this week.
“(Stewart) pitched well today,” Matos said. “We committed a couple of errors today that didn't help him out, but I like what I saw from our pitchers today.”
Stewart settled in following the 1st inning, scattering three hits with two walks while striking out three batters during a total of five innings pitched. Stewart earned the win in Thursday's game, his second of the season.
“After that first inning, I took a minute to get my thoughts together and said ‘okay, let's go get a stop now',” Stewart said. “You always try your best to go out there and make good pitches, but you have a little more leeway with a lead like I had today.”
After trailing for most of the game, Dayton scored two runs in the top of the 9th inning, but failed to push the tying run across in the final matchup of a four-game series.
Thursday's was the second consecutive victory for the Loons, who sit at 14-17 overall and are just five games behind the first-place team in the Midwest League's East Division standings.
For the second time in as many days, the Dragons grabbed the lead early. Seth Varner's two-out single put Dayton up 1-0 in the top of the 1st inning. Two batters later, an RBI groundout by the Dragons gave them a 2-0 advantage.
The Loons had two chances to tie the game in the bottom of the 1st and 3rd innings, but leadoff man Micheal Ahmed was stranded on third base in the 1st and first baseman Justin Chigbogu struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 3rd.
Then, the Loons took advantage of more than one of the Dragons' defensive miscues.
Catcher Spencer Navin started Great Lakes' comeback effort in the 4th inning with an opposite field base hit, which cut Dayton's lead in half 2-1. Navin came around to score the tying run on a throwing error from Dayton starting pitcher Wyatt Strahan, who was immediately pulled from the game and took the loss.
The Loons stole two more unearned runs during the next at bat when Dragons' catcher Garrett Boulware failed a pickoff attempt at third base, and the ball skipped down the third-base line allowing the home team to take a 4-2 lead.
Stewart was relived in the bottom of the 6th inning by left-handed Florida native J. D. Underwood who allowed three hits and no earned runs during three crucial innings on the hill.
Navin continued his impressive performance in the 5th inning with his second RBI single up the middle, adding some insurance and enhancing the Loons' lead to 5-2.
“We really grinded these two wins (against Dayton) out,” Navin said. “Our bullpen has been coming in late and really shutting these guys down. That's been the difference.”
To start the 8th inning, Underwood handed the ball to fellow right-handed reliever, Karch Kowalczyk who earned the save for Great Lakes.
Holding the third-place spot in the Midwest League East, the South Bend Cubs come to town on Friday for the final three games of Great Lakes' current seven-game homestand.
The Loons host Girl Scout Sleepover Night on Friday. Local Girl Scout groups will spend the night at Dow Diamond following the Loons' clash with the South Bend Cubs at 7:05 p.m.
Grant Holmes will be the starting pitcher for the Loons. Holmes is 1-0 this season with 33 strikeouts and an earned runs average of 4.39. South Bend sends Trevor Clifton to the mound on Friday. Clifton is 1-1 this season with 2.91 ERA. Listen to the game on ESPN 100.9-FM with Chris Vosters and Jim Costa on the call.
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