On a day of record heat, the Johnson City Cardinals’ bats heated up once the sun went down.
After temperatures cooled from a record 103 degrees earlier in the day, the Cardinals rallied from a four-run deficit to beat Burlington 6-4 on Saturday night at Cardinal Park.
It snapped a two-game skid for the Cardinals (6-6), and kept them two games behind Greeneville in the early race for the Applachian League West Division championship. The Royals fell to 7-5 with the loss.
“It says a lot about this team,” Johnson City manager Oliver Marmol said. “The last couple of nights, we’ve given up a lead early and haven’t been able to come back.
“We talked about competing and what it takes to compete at this level. We were down the first couple of innings, but we were able to come back and stick with it. It was a pleasant thing to see how these guys put it into play.”
Center fielder Lance Jeffries Jr. led the way. He went 2-for-4, got on base with a walk, and scored three runs, including two off wild pitches.
“Any way you can use your speed, you use it,” said the 19-year-old Jeffries, who was a 10th round pick for the Cardinals in 2011. “If you’re on (base), if you can steal a base, you steal it. If it’s a passed ball or wild pitch, you just go.”
Carson Kelly was 3-for-4, while Jeremy Schaffer, Ronald Castillo, Dutch Deol and Jeffries all ended with two hits. The output came after a team meeting earlier in the day.
“We had a talk earlier about plate discipline and focus,” Jeffries said. “More concentration at the plate can take you to the next level, and eventually to play at the highest level.”
It still didn’t look good for the Cardinals early.
Bubba Starling, the Royals’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft, lined a two-run single for the game’s first two runs. Starling advanced to third base on a fielding error by Jefferies and then scored Burlington’s third run off a sacrifice fly by Cameron Gallagher.
Burlington added another run in the top of the second off a RBI single by Terrance Gore.
The Cardinals got on the board in the bottom of the fourth as Schaffer’s RBI double scored Jefferies. Two innings later, Jefferies scored again, this time off a wild pitch.
Kelly pulled Johnson City within one on a RBI single to score Michael Knox, and Deol’s RBI single tied the game 4-4 at the end of six innings.
Johnson City finally took a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh, with Jeffers’ go-ahead run off a wild pitch, followed by a RBI single by Castillo.
Cory Jones was the starter for Johnson City, but lasted just three innings after giving up four hits and four runs. Dixon Llorens (1-0) came in the seventh and pitched two innings to record the victory.
Despite a shaky night defensively with three errors, the Cardinals were able to overcome the mistakes with the strong night at the plate. They outhit the Royals 12-6, but still faced with runners at first and third base with no outs in the ninth inning.
Closer Ronnie Shaban held to record his fourth save of the young season. He was aided by a timely defensive play. Catcher Steve Bean made a powerful throw to spoil a steal attempt at second base and hold the Royals’ Beau Maggi at third.
For Marmol and the Cardinals, they were just glad to be in the win column after a couple of frustrating nights.
“Anyway we can, we’ll take it right now,” Marmol said. “These guys are making a lot of outs on hard line drives, so to be able to manufacture some runs today was huge.”
The Cardinals now go on the road for back-to-back three-game series at Bristol and Greeneville before returning home next Saturday to face Elizabethton.