The Aberdeen IronBirds’ best season in 20 years came to a close Wednesday night one win short of a High-A South Atlantic League championship.
The IronBirds were shut out, 4-0, by Bowling Green at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, giving the Hot Rods the title in the best-of-three series.
“It was tough, we had some opportunities early on and I mean they had some great pitchers out there that threw really well,” Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado said. “You’ve got to give credit to those guys, the way they executed their pitches and did a great job keeping us off balance.”
Aberdeen, which recorded just four hits, had its leadoff batter reach base in four of the first five innings, but nothing came from it.
The best scoring chance was squandered in the first inning. Dylan Beavers led off with a single, and with one out, Heston Kjerstad and Jud Fabian drew consecutive walks to load the bases.
Bowling Green pitcher Ben Peoples struck out Max Wagner and Connor Pavolony flew out to right to end the threat.
Aberdeen starting pitcher Peter Van Loon was sharp over four innings, keeping the Hot Rods off the scoreboard and keeping his team in it. The right-hander allowed one hit and a walk while striking out four. Unfortunately, Van Loon left due to a blister developing on his throwing hand.
“He developed a little issue with his hand, so that was the reason why he was pulled,” Mercado said. “He was pitching great ... trust me, we were going to keep him out there a little bit longer, but obviously will never put a guy out there and have that finger be an issue and have that affect his offseason.”
Connor Gillispie relieved Van Loon in the fifth, and he had trouble. Logan Driscoll belted a leadoff double, and two batters later Michael Berglund (3-for-4) singled Driscoll to third. Gillispie, who struck out a batter between the hits, walked Abiezel Ramirez to load the bases, and that ended Gillispie’s night.
Kade Strowd took over and struck out the next two batters, but was called for a balk, which brought Driscoll home. Mercado said it was the right call.
“The clock was running down and I think Strowd saw the clock and kind of rushed, kind of rolled into it,” he said. “I mean, it was the right call, not gonna deny that. Just a tough situation in that spot. We probably get out of that inning with a strikeout, no runs and then who knows what happens, but it was the right call.”
Bowling Green starter Peoples allowed one hit and three walks over 2 2/3 innings, striking out four.
Hot Rods reliever Austin Vernon gave his team 3 1/3 innings of strong relief. Vernon gave up two hits and a walk while striking out four.
Strowd pitched into the seventh but was chased after giving up three hits and two runs. Mason Auer doubled in the pair, knocking Strowd out of the game. Nick Richmond came on and induced a groundout, but Tanner Murray drove in another run with a single.
With the 4-0 lead, Bowling Green went deeper into its bullpen. Evan Reifert pitched two innings, allowing one hit and striking out three.
Wagner hit a two-out triple to deep center in the sixth for the IronBirds’ lone extra-base hit, but Pavolony struck out looking to end the inning. Frederick Bencosme and Kjerstad each singled for the ‘Birds.
In the ninth, Bowling Green’s Antonio Menendez retired the side on two ground balls and a strikeout.
Houston Roth (walk, strikeout) and Xavier Moore (strikeout) both pitched an inning of relief for Aberdeen.
“It was a great learning experience for our guys. We’ve got a lot of young guys that just got here and this experience of playoff baseball and competing,” Mercado said. “Again, at the end of the day it’s about the player development, it’s about those guys getting better and getting these different experiences of high-pressure situations and those opportunities will hopefully one day prove that they’re prepared one day to play in Camden Yards.”