BRIDGEWATER, NJ — Welcome to life inside the Ducks- Somerset Patriots rivalry. Close games, late nights, high stakes and pressure. Oh, the pressure.
This is nothing new for these two teams, who have played two five-game playoff series since 2013.
And if Wednesday night was any indication, it might soon become three. The Patriots topped the Ducks, 3-2, in 11 innings in the first game of the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series at T.D. Bank Ballpark.
Scott Kelly launched a solo home run just inside the leftfield foul pole off James Lomangino to send the sparse but enthusiastic crowd home happy. It was only the second home run of Kelly’s three-year professional career.
“I went fastball inside,” said Lomangino, a Ronkonkoma native. “I left it a little over the plate, but the wind took it back . . . I was pretty happy with the pitch. I don’t think he beat me on it. Things happen. There’s not much to say about it. He won that battle.”
Said Ducks manager Kevin Baez, “When [Lomangino] comes in, he’s going to throw strikes. He’s got a good fastball, challenged Kelly, and gave up the home run. But in late-inning games, I want guys who are throwing strikes.”
The pitch was the lone blemish for the Ducks bullpen. Four other Ducks relievers, Patrick Crider, Amalio Diaz, Zac Treece and Luis Perdomo, combined to allow one hit over four innings. Ducks starter John Brownell allowed two runs on five hits, struck out two and walked four over six innings.
The Ducks offense had their chances. Delta Cleary Jr flied out with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth inning, squandering a chance for the Ducks to steal a late victory.
“It’s the playoffs, stuff like that happens,” Cleary said. “It’s just something you have to try to deal with and hopefully [tonight] we can come up with the big hit.”
Somerset reliever Efrain Nieves got the win. Patriots starter Will Oliver allowed two runs on eight hits in seven innings.
Patriots third baseman David Vidal’s RBI double in the first inning gave Somerset a 1-0 lead, but it wouldn’t last long. The Ducks tied it in the top of the second when Cody Puckett scored on a throwing error by Oliver.
Anthony Vega, who played at Patchogue-Medford High School, gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead with an RBI single in the fourth inning and the Patriots tied it on Carlos Guzman’s RBI double in the sixth.
Game 2 is Thursday night.