WATERTOWN — On the first day of summer, the Watertown Rapids’ struggles this week continued right out of the gate Friday night.
But credit the Elmira Pioneers, who came into the day in last place in the West Division, with a hard-fought road win.
The Pioneers took advantage of a poor start by the Rapids, scoring six runs in the first two innings and receiving a ninth-inning home run from Mason Ruhlman to prevail, 7-5, in a Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League game at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
“It was a terrible start, that’s an understatement,” Watertown coach Mike Wood said. “Anytime you walk, hit a few guys there and top it off with a couple errors, it’s tough.”
Watertown, which sat in first place in the West Division as recently as last Saturday, has now lost four straight games, all at home this week, to fall to 7-7.
“We’ve been playing well in all of these games,” Rapids shortstop Brandon Taylor said. “Things just haven’t been going our way, whether its defense or offense, defense really hurt us today. As soon as we put it all together, I think we’ll be all right and we’ll make a good run.”
Third baseman Preston Moore doubled, singled, drove in a run and scored twice for Elmira (4-11), which moved out of last place in the West.
“We have some good parts, but we’ve been struggling,” Elmira coach Matt Burch said. “Sometimes we’ve felt a bit snakebitten, but we had a good day today. We responded well in some pressure situations.”
The Rapids didn’t help their cause early on, committing two errors and hitting two batters in the first inning as Elmira jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
“Tough start, we made a few errors and we got down there,” Taylor said. “But we were able to come back a little bit every inning, scoring one run every inning, and we were able to make it close at the end. But sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
The Pioneers scored two runs in the second on an RBI double from Moore and a run-scoring single from Garrett Schultz.
However, through Watertown’s recent skid, Wood has been impressed with his team’s fight.
“When you get off to a slow start like that, it’s hard to dig,” Wood said. “Our guys did claw back a little bit there, we just couldn’t get that one big hit there in the late innings.”
The Rapids chipped away by scoring single runs in the first, second, third, fifth and seventh innings to draw within 6-5.
Taylor walked with one out in the seventh inning, and after stealing second base, scored on a wild pitch to close the gap to one run.
But Watertown left the bases loaded after leaving two runners on in the sixth.
The Rapids were then retired in order in the eighth and ninth innings by shortstop Nathan Berg, who pitched two innings to earn the save in his first pitching appearance of the season.
“We just kind of kept ourselves in the game,” Wood said. “Absolutely, we had our chances there in the late innings, we had the bases loaded, we just failed to get that big hit.”
Elmira starter Neftaly Severino Cronier III pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs, walking one and striking out two to record his first win of the season.
Rapids starter Greg Tobin (0-2) also went five innings, with two of the four runs allowed unearned, striking out six and walking two in taking the loss.
“So we didn’t have the strongest pitching to start, but I thought Greg bounced back pretty well, so I was happy with that,” Wood said.
The first six baserunners reached in the first for Elmira, with two of the first four reaching on a hit by pitch. Moore delivered an RBI single and Berg followed with a bloop RBI single to right field for a 2-0 lead. The Pioneers scored two more runs with two outs as Kyle Richardson reached on an infield error.
Watertown scored a single run in each of the first three innings on a two-out RBI single from James Krick in the first, Dylan Sanchez scored on a wild pitch in the second and a two-out RBI single to right by Taylor in the third.
The Rapids got within 6-4 in the fifth on another two-out single, this time from Khale Showers to right-center field.
After Watertown got within 6-5 in the seventh, Ruhlman belted his solo home run over the right-field wall in the ninth.
“We’ve just to stay upbeat,” Taylor added. “We’re on a losing streak right now, obviously we’ve got to come back tomorrow, play our best and hope for the best.”
Taylor, Krick, Sanchez and Derek Kasperzyk each singled twice for the Rapids and Vinny DeRubeis doubled and scored a run.
“That’s good a team, Watertown is a good team,” Burch said. “Our division is tough this year, so we’re really going to have to find a way to win some more ballgames.”
The Rapids will now hit the road for four games over the next three days. After playing at East Division- and league-leading Amsterdam (13-2) at 6:45 tonight, Watertown will play a doubleheader at West Division co-leader Utica at 5 p.m. Sunday before playing at Newark at 7:05 p.m. Monday.
“We’re 14 games in and we’re sitting at .500,” said Wood, whose team has been outscored 30-13 in the losing skid. “It’s tough to swallow just because that is four in a row, and nobody likes that. We thought the off day would help us a little bit, but we clearly came out a little rusty. So hopefully we’ll get back in a groove, get back into the swing of things here with a good road stretch coming up.”