The lights were on Saturday night at Sal Maglie Stadium as the Niagara Power opened their 2021 home slate versus the Newark Pilots. Although, things began shaky for the Power, and an 0-2 start loomed, the team was able to bounce back from a tough start to win, 7-5.
The game was the team’s first at Sal Maglie Stadium since its 2019 New York Collegiate Baseball League title season. The 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
The Pilots got on the board early as leadoff hitter Jason Fointno legged out an infield single. After a groundout, Patrick Blackall laced a one-hop double off the left field fence to score Fointno and give Newark a 1-0 lead. Power pitcher Chandler Giles was able to get two strikeouts to end a first-and-third jam.
The Pilots' offense continued to fly in the second. After three straight singles by the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters, Fointno grounded out to second to drive in a run. The big blow came from Jacob Corson, as he laced a double to the left-center gap, driving in two more for Newark. After two innings, Newark led, 4-0.
After being held hitless through three innings by Newark southpaw McKinley Scott, the Power’s bats came to life.
Roberto Mejia notched the Power’s first base hit to right centerfield. One batter later, Tyler Lozano roped an RBI double to get the Power on the board. The next batter, Brock Rudy, followed with an RBI triple.
The Power scored their next two runs to tie it a bit unconventionally. A dropped third strike went to the deep backstop of "The Barber Shop" to score Rudy from third. Meanwhile, as the catcher retrieved the ball, Tyler Greene hustled to second out of the box to get into scoring position.
After a caught stealing and a hit by pitch, No. 8 hitter Vincent Mauro, the Niagara Falls native, Canisius High School star and future Niagara Purple Eagle, hit a dribbler down the third base line that was thrown away. On the error, Tyler Coy hustled all the way from first to tie it at 4 after four innings.
The Power took the lead in the bottom of the fifth, as Rudy notched his second RBI of the game with a base hit up the middle. The knock scored Scott Ogrin, who got the rally started with a two-out walk. After five innings, the Power led Newark, 5-4.
Niagara added on in the sixth. After an error, double and walk to begin the frame, with one out, Mejia hit a fielders choice to shortstop to score Coy. On the play, the shortstop errantly threw the ball away to third base. Mauro attempted to score on the play, but tripped running down the line and was eventually thrown out at the plate.
Newark inched closer in the seventh, as Grant Voytovich ripped a single with one out, then stole second base. Next batter, Nate Kistler hit a ground ball to short, which sent Voytovich running to third. On his way to third, Power shortstop Mejia threw the ball off Voytovich’s helmet. The ball flew away from the third baseman and Voytovich was able to score and make it 6-5 Power.
The inning proceeded and the Pilots loaded the bases with one out. The log jam prompted Power manager Stu Pederson to make a pitching change from Brett Kochanski – who threw 3 1/3 innings in relief – to Cam Gallardo. With his back against the wall, Gallardo struck the next two Pilots’ batters to end the threat and keep the score locked at 6-5.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Power added some insurance. Niagara Falls native AJ Kinney laced a one out double down the left field line. Leadoff man Aaron Greenfield followed up with a base hit to drive Kinney in from second and extend Niagara’s lead, 7-5.
In the ninth inning, Gallardo stayed in to seal the deal for the Power. He ran into slight trouble, issuing a triple and a walk with two outs, but struck out Corson to notch the Power’s first victory of the year.
In 2 2/3 innings of relief, Gallardo struck out six.
After a season-opening loss Friday night, the Power were able to bounce back on a quick turnaround. The home-opening win, Pederson said, was nice, but he stressed that the team is only going to get much better once the full roster of guys return. Almost 15 players on the Power are currently playing at the College World Series.
“It’s good. We’re going to have a good team. I mean, we’re missing 15 players. There were maybe three starters, we had four to five high school guys that came out to help us get nine guys on the field.”
Pederson added he expects most of his guys to return in around a week and when they do, he expects big things from the bunch this summer.
After a sluggish first three innings, the Power were able able to touch up Scott. After tying it up at four, they never looked back. Pederson said once the inning came around, guys’ mindsets began to change in the batters box.
“The wind was blowing out and yesterday we had some guys hit home runs — we got some guys that have some juice and power here — and I think they were just trying to do too much, thinking, ‘Oh, I wanna hit a home run, let me just try to lift the ball.’ When they start trying to lift the ball, they start trying to muscle it and it slows their swings down, rather than just staying within what you’re capable of doing and hitting line drives and if you get the ball elevated, it’ll go,” Pederson said.
The Power offense was led by Rudy, Lozano and Coy, who notched two hits apiece. Rudy added two RBIs in the win. Coy also scored twice.
Relief pitching was huge for the Power, as Kochanski came in to relieve Giles and threw 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Gallardo followed with 2 2/3 to seal the Pilots’ fate.
Pederson praised the efforts of both.
“Brett came in sharp for almost four innings and then Cam came in good and I think he ended up throwing maybe 30 pitches, which is what he’s supposed to. We thought he’d give us two innings and he gave us two and two-thirds. We got plenty of good arms, good guys and we got more horses coming in, so it’ll be a fun summer,” Pederson said.
After a road game Sunday, the Power are back at Sal Maglie at 4:30 p.m. Monday for a doubleheader against the Jamestown Tarpskunks.