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Trash Pandas split doubleheader with Lookouts

By Aaron Cheris

MADISON – After a struggle at the plate in a 4-1 loss in the opener, the Rocket City Trash Pandas offense scored early and often in the nightcap to defeat the Chattanooga Lookouts 8-5, earning a split of a doubleheader at Toyota Field on Thursday night.

In the opener, the Lookouts quickly took the lead when Matt McLain tripled to deep right and scored on Elly De La Cruz’s RBI single to left. Strong defense kept the deficit at one, with catcher Zach Humphreys throwing out two runners trying to steal to get Braden Olthoff through the frame.

Rocket City responded in the bottom of the second against Chattanooga’s Joe Boyle, loading the bases with three walks before a wild pitch allowed Sonny DiChiara to come home from third to even the score.

The Lookouts restored the lead in the third. McLain reached on a two-out error from Trash Pandas shortstop Zach Neto to keep the inning alive. De La Cruz then crushed Olthoff’s 3-0 offering 491 feet over the batter’s eye in center field for a two-run homer, his sixth at the Double-A level, giving Chattanooga a 3-1 advantage.

Olthoff (L, 3-6) exited after four innings, allowing three runs, one earned, on eight hits without a walk or a strikeout to suffer his sixth loss of the season. In relief of Olthoff, Jack Dashwood was sharp, giving up only a T.J. Hopkins solo home run in the fifth over three innings of relief to finish the game on the mound and keep it close.

But the Trash Pandas offense was stymied all afternoon. Boyle, along with relievers Ryan Nutof (W, 5-1) and Pedro Garcia (S, 9) combined to hold Rocket City to just one run on two hits despite six total walks to give the visitors the win in the opener.

In the nightcap, the Rocket City bats awakened from their afternoon nap. Aaron Whitefield was hit by a pitch to begin the bottom of the first. He promptly stole second and third base as walks to Neto and Logan O’Hoppe loaded the bases. Jeremiah Jackson took a two-out walk of his own, giving the Trash Pandas the early lead without putting a ball in play. Ryan Aguilar then lined a double to the gap in left-center, scoring Neto and O’Hoppe to give starter Ky Bush an early cushion.

Chattanooga got one back in the top of the second on Christian Encarnacion-Strand’s RBI single to plate Alex McGarry, who began the inning with a triple.

Rocket City added on in the bottom of the frame. Jordyn Adams got it started with a single, Whitefield walks, and a sacrifice bunt from Livan Soto moved the runners to second and third with one out. Two hitters later, O’Hoppe grounded a single up the middle, plating both runners to make it a 5-1 game. He would come around to score on Jackson’s single to right, doubling the Rocket City run total to 6-1 after a pair.

Pitching with the big lead, Bush retired the Lookouts in order in both the third and fourth before inducing a double play to get out of a jam in the fifth. The Trash Pandas put the game out of reach for good in the bottom of the inning with back-to-back solo home runs from Ryan Aguilar and Kevin Maitan, sending the crowd at Toyota Field to its feet with an 8-1 Trash Pandas lead.

Bush allowed a run in the sixth to end his night. In his longest start since June 17, Bush (W, 6-2) allowed two runs on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts to pick up the victory, his sixth of the season.

In the seventh, the Lookouts cut into the Trash Pandas’ lead against Nick Jones and brought De La Cruz to the plate as the tying run with the bases loaded and one out. Kolton Ingram (S, 8) entered from the Rocket City bullpen and induced a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning. Ingram ended the game by getting Hopkins to line out to short, finishing an 8-5 win and earning his eighth save of the season.

In the second game, Aguilar led the way at the plate by going 3-for-3 with a double, his team-leading 14th home run, three RBI, and a run scored. Neto and O’Hoppe both chipped in with two hits while O’Hoppe and Jackson drove in a pair.

The Trash Pandas (63-48, 22-20 second half) continue their series against the Lookouts (48-63, 14-28 second half) on Friday night. First pitch at Toyota Field is set for 6:35 p.m. Josh Caray will be on the call for 103.9 FM THE UMP and 730 AM SportsRadio. The game will also be televised locally on WAAY-31.6, This TV. After the game, a fireworks show will light up the North Alabama sky, presented by Chick-fil-A.

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Digital version of The Madison Record – Feb. 28, 2024

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