Aug. 5—Altoona Cumming Motors was on the verge of mounting a furious comeback well after a lightning delay in Thursday's AAABA Tournament quarterfinal against Brooklyn-1 at Roxbury Park.
Trailing by five in the eighth inning, Altoona pulled within one run and loaded the bases. However, Brooklyn right-hander Robert Marshall recorded a swinging strikeout to keep momentum on the Cougars' side.
In the bottom half, Pool C runner-up Brooklyn provided its own thunder with a two-run double with two outs to propel it to an 8-5 victory and advance to Friday's semifinal round at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of Friday morning's Cleveland and Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors contest.
"There definitely was a chip on our shoulder from last year," said Brooklyn designated hitter Julian Jaume, who doubled in the ninth to add a pair of insurance runs to his team's cause.
Brooklyn (3-1) lost a 7-5 contest on the final day of pool play in 2021 and failed to advance. The Cougars rebounded from Wednesday's 12-11 loss to Cleveland, and made sure to take advantage of Thursday's opportunity.
"This was a learning experience for a bunch of us, but I feel like now we're really trying to make our names known," Jaume said.
"We were one out away from making it to the quarters last year," Brooklyn manager Eric Jaume said. "We got knocked out. Making it this far this year was a big plus for us. The kids worked hard. They wanted to come out and show what they could really do."
Altoona outhit Brooklyn 11-7, but left 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position. Cumming Motors finished with a 2-2 mark as the Pool D champion.
"We lived and died by our hitting all summer long," Altoona manager Chris Sanders said. "I just think that there were certain situations where we did not put the ball in play when we needed to."
Charlie Bakken led Altoona with three hits. Corey Chamberlain, Jake Hillard and Lucas Muffie each provided two knocks, with Muffie driving in a pair of runs.
John Riviere-Vejas was Brooklyn's spark plug atop the lineup with three hits, including an RBI triple, two runs and a stolen base. Thursday marked the third straight day the Cougars were involved in a game decided by three or less runs.
"We've been in this situation so many times to get to Johnstown," Riviere-Vejas said. "We've been in the situation with our backs against the wall, and we have to come through. It's nothing new for us. It's the first time our organization even made it this far.
"I'm at a loss for words right now. It's crazy."
Trailing 6-1 in the eighth, Altoona produced two straight singles to knock out Brooklyn right-hander Thomas Rondon, who allowed three runs (two earned) over 71/3 innings without recording a strikeout.
"He was pounding the zone," Eric Jaume said of Rondon, who finished with 97 pitches. "He got us to the eighth. He's been our go-to guy. We held him specifically for this game.
"We know he's a big-game player, so he didn't get nervous or rattled."
Robert Marshall entered with two runners on and one out. An error loaded the bases. Devon Boyles drew a walk. Muffie, Erik Rhodes and Bakken provided three consecutive RBI singles to keep the bases juiced and pull within 6-5. A popup to the pitcher was the second out. Marshall fanned No. 3 hitter Kevin Lehner with an elevated breaking ball to quell the rally.
"We feed off of our pitchers, so for Bobby Marshall to get that last strikeout in the bottom of the eighth, to send us in to put some runs back up for him was big," Julian Jaume said. "He came in and told us, 'There's no limit. All you got to do is just get a few more insurance runs and we're going to win.' Sure enough, that's exactly what we did."
Julian Jaume lined a 2-1 offering from southpaw Mack Meengs down the right-field line to bring home two runners and increase Brooklyn's lead to 8-5.
"My main approach was short to it, long through it," Julian Jaume said.
"That kid had some very good stuff, especially with a lefty-on-lefty matchup. You get jammed most of the time, so I was just trying to get my foot down and stay short to the ball."
Julian Jaume's hit provided a special father-son moment.
"It was big, to be honest, because we had second and third and my son was batting," Eric Jaume said. "He came through for us in the clutch, so I wasn't worried. It's kind of funny because you got to separate it, but it's hard when he comes up with a big hit and drives in two runs. The dad came out of me a little bit."
In the bottom of the fourth, play was suspended for 30 minutes due to nearby lightning and a light rain shower.
Brooklyn right-hander Thomas Marshall earned the save in the ninth with two strikeouts. He was the winning pitcher after firing 51/3 shutout innings in relief on Tuesday.
Altoona went ahead 1-0 on Muffie's RBI single in the second.
Brooklyn broke out with three runs against Altoona starter Eli Wiles, who fanned four batters the first time through the order. Joan Peralta just missed a home run as he delivered an RBI double on a 3-1 count off the left-field fence close to the foul line. Myles Vazquez crushed a 2-1 offering over the fence in right to give Brooklyn a 3-1 lead.
In the seventh, Brooklyn added another trio of runs. Luis Reyes brought home a run with a groundball single up the middle. Riviere- Vejas greeted Altoona reliever Bryant Allison with an RBI triple into the right-center field gap. Julian Jaume lifted a sacrifice fly to left to boost the lead to 6-1.
Despite the loss, Sanders found the positives in Altoona reaching the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
"It's a big step for Altoona AAABA," Sanders said. "It's a huge step for us moving forward. Last year, we had two teams here and one (Johnston Realty) went to the quarterfinals. To have two Altoona teams go to the quarterfinals back-to-back years, that's definitely something that we're improving on and we're moving forward with. We're pretty excited about retooling and coming back next year."
Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.