BRISTOL, Va. – Bristol Pirates outfielder Daniel Rivero was not quite two years old when Pedro Lopez hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the 2002 Appalachian League championship for the Bristol White Sox.
Rivero’s one-out double in the third inning on Friday night was the first postseason hit for Bristol since then, and it was the first of 11 hits overall for the Pirates as they rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Johnson City Cardinals in Game 1 of the Appy League West Division Championship Series.
“The team is just playing together,” BriBucs manager Kieran Mattison said. “They’re out there scrapping and clawing throughout the game, and it was just nice to get that first win at home.”
Jose Maldonado opened up the first postseason game in Bristol in 17 years with a called strike on the first pitch of the night and three pitches later he got the swinging strikeout for the first out of the game.
After two scoreless innings to start the game, Maldonado surrendered his first run of the night on a two-out single to right to put Johnson City ahead 1-0. Rivero scored the tying run in the bottom of the third on an infield single by Jake Snider, but a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth inning would put the Cardinals back in the lead.
Catcher Eli Wilson would become the catalyst for Bristol’s come-from-behind victory in the fifth inning when he scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Josh Bissonette. After a game-tying RBI double by shortstop Francisco Acuna in the bottom of the eighth, Wilson stepped up to the plate and laced a single just over the glove of Cardinals second baseman Kevin Vargas and into right field to drive in Acuna and give the Pirates a 4-3 lead.
Two batters later, Wilson scored on Snider’s second infield single of the night to give Bristol a two-run cushion.
“All the games at this point are a dogfight. We were down early in the game, and I trusted our guys and we all trusted each other that at some point we’d push some runs across,” Wilson said. “In certain situations you’re just trying to hit the ball hard and drive in runners, and when there’s nobody on you’re just trying to get on base.”
That lead proved to be the difference in the game, as Johnson City scored on an error with two outs in the top of the ninth inning to make it a 5-4 game. But in a nearly identical scenario to the Pirates’ victory over Danville on Wednesday night to clinch a playoff berth, Samson Abernathy induced a ground ball to Bissonette who made the throw to first baseman Matt Morrow to end the game.
C.J. Dandeneau was the winning pitcher for Bristol after allowing just one run on three hits while striking out three Cardinals in three innings of relief.
“It was a pretty well-played game for the most part,” Dandeneau said. “Pitchers were attacking the zone and that was our gameplan — just strike one, strike two and put them away.”
Wilson was one of five Pirates with two hits in the win, as he finished 2-for-4 with one RBI and two runs scored. Bissonette was 2-for-3 with a RBI, walk and a stolen base, while Snider led the team with two RBIs as he finished 2-for-5 with a pair of singles.
As the Pirates entered the clubhouse at DeVault Stadium as winners, they are already preparing themselves for the second game of the series at Johnson City on Saturday night. Bristol will turn to Adrian Florencio for Game 2, as the Pirates sit one win away from advancing to the league championship.
Mattison said that to be at this point in the season is a huge accomplishment for the team, but they’re not ready to stop any time soon.
“It means a lot. To have a goal, and something we talked about at the beginning of the season, to be one game away is pretty phenomenal. It’s a great opportunity for us to go out there and to keep competing and find a way to win,” Mattison said. “And I know these guys are going to give it all they got. They’re going to keep doing what they’ve done all season.”