Courtesy Vermont Lake Monsters
BURLINGTON — The Vermont Lake Monsters closed out the 2018 New York-Penn League season by scoring nine runs in the bottom of the first inning and holding on for a 9-6 victory over the Sted Division champion Tri-City ValleyCats Monday afternoon at historic Centennial Field.
Payton Squier got the scoring started in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer to rightfield for his second home run of the season. Squier’s other long ball came in the home opener back on June 20th, making him just the second player in Vermont history to homer in both the home opener and finale (Chad Pinder also hit his only two Vermont home runs in the 2013 opener and closer).
Jonah Bride followed the Squier home run with his team-leading 17th double to center and scored on an Alfonso Rivas RBI single to right. Tri-City starter Ernesto Jaquez then forced home the fourth run of the inning with a walk, hit batter and bases loaded walk.
The fifth run of the inning scored on a wild pitch and Jose Rivas followed with a three-run homer to left for his second home run of the season. A Kevin Merrell triple to rightcenter knocked Jaquez from the game and Squier picked up his third RBI and capped the scoring in the first with an infield single to second base scoring Merrell.
The nine-run first came seven years to the day since Vermont last scored eight or more runs in an inning when the Lake Monsters scored eight times in the bottom of the first inning in a 13-0 victory over Tri-City on September 3, 2011.
After the nine-run, six-hit first inning, the Lake Monsters had just one hit over their final seven innings (a Squier two-out double in the third). ValleyCats reliever Jacob Billingsley allowed just two hits over 3 2/3 innings, Joey Gonzalez two strikeouts over three scoreless innings and Matt Ruppenthal a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Tri-City chipped away at the nine-run deficit with two runs in the fourth inning and three more in the seventh, including a 2-run homer from Luis Encarnacion (his 10th home run of the season), then got a 392-foot solo homer from Orlando Marquez in the eighth to cut the deficit to 9-6.
Vermont starter Reid Birlingmair allowed one hit with one walk and one strikeout over three scoreless innings of work. After the nine-run bottom first, Birlingmair retired six of the final seven batters he faced (allowed a one-out double in the third). Jaimito Lebron gave up a leadoff double in the ninth, but closed out the game for his second save.
Squier, playing in just his second game since August 4th, went 3-for-4 with the double, homer and three RBI to finish the season with a .323 average and 29 RBI. Bride was 1-for-3 and finished with a .287 average and 34 RBI, while Alfonso Rivas 1-for-2 with an RBI to finish with .285 average and 28 RBI.
After a seven-game losing streak dropped the Lake Monsters to 27-32 on August 18th, Vermont won 12 of its last 17 games to finish the season 39-37 overall, just the eighth winning season in the team’s 25-year history and second straight (42-33 in 2017) for the first time since three straight above .500 seasons 1994, 1995 and 1996.