Dustin Brisson is built more for power than speed, but he managed to kick it into high gear for a 270-foot sprint to an Augusta GreenJackets victory.
From the moment the ball left Kenny Perez's bat in the bottom of the 10th inning, Brisson knew there was no turning back. The burly 6-foot-3 first baseman scored from first base on Perez's walk-off triple to center field, which lifted the Jackets to a 5-4 win over the mighty Kannapolis Intimidators before a sellout crowd of 4,701 fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium on Saturday.
"When I didn't see (Kannapolis center fielder Michael Spidale) anywhere close to the ball, I made up my mind I was going to score," said Brisson, who went 4-for-5, including a single with one out in the 10th inning. "This is a huge series for us. In most people's mind, Kannapolis is the best team in the league, and to come out with a performance like this was incredible."
After striking out three times in his first four at-bats against an impressive corps of Kannapolis pitchers, Perez delivered with his first triple of the year to give the Jackets another electrifying win at home.
"I was just trying to hit the ball anywhere possible," Perez said. "I saw (Brisson) and had confidence in him all the way. He's pretty fast and can surprise some people. I knew he was going to go all the way."
The Jackets had a rough time in the early going against Kannapolis ace Dennis Ulacia, who entered with a 6-0 record and 1.73 ERA. Ulacia struck out five of the first nine hitters he faced, and the Intimidators - who entered with the best record in the South Atlantic League at 39-14 - grabbed an early lead with a four-run third inning against Augusta's all-star left-hander, Rich Rundles.
But Justin Sherrod belted his sixth home run of the year - a two-run bomb to left-center in the third off Ulacia - to make it 4-2, and the Jackets scored single runs in the fourth and fifth to tie the game at 4.
The Jackets had an opportunity to win it in the ninth but couldn't buy a break. Rick Asadoorian, who struck out in his first four trips to the plate, led off the inning with an infield single, but Antron Seiber failed to bunt him over to second, instead popping up to third baseman John Lackaff.
Sherrod then drilled a fastball by reliever Arnaldo Munoz to left field that had the makings of a game-winning double, but left fielder Darren Ciraco made a remarkable diving catch for the second out of the inning. Bryan Barnowski then hit a fly ball down the line that Kannapolis right fielder Nilson Teilon ran down and hauled in to end the threat.
Leading off the top of the 10th, Kannapolis' Chris Amador drilled a fastball from Jackets reliever Rodney Dickinson to the gap in right-center, but Sherrod returned the favor with a highlight-reel diving catch to rob Amador of extra bases.
"Sometimes, that can get lost in the shuffle, but that was a big catch by Sherrod," Jackets manager Mike Boulanger said. "That's a double or a triple right there. This was a good ballgame. You can see why Kannapolis has won so many games."
GreenJackets 5, Intimidators 4
Player of the game: First baseman Dustin Brisson went 4-for-5, including a single in the 10th inning to set up a dramatic finish.
Turning point: Shortstop Kenny Perez stroked a triple to the wall in center field with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, sending Brisson home to score from first base for the victory.
Ballpark fun: Birdzerk, schmerdzerk. We're talking marriage proposal here. With some help from P.A. announcer Scott Skadan, Jackets fan Joe Niemczyk popped the question to his girlfriend Gena Payne, who also celebrated her 18th birthday at the ballpark. She accepted.
Today's games: Doubleheader, Kannapolis Intimidators (39-15) vs. Augusta GreenJackets (32-22), 2:15 p.m., Lake Olmstead Stadium.
Probable starters: Kannapolis - LHP Jim Sweeney (6-1, 1.66) and RHP Kris McWhirter (7-3, 2.68); Augusta - RHP Rene Miniel (3-2, 5.31) and RHP Tony Fontana (0-0, 2.56).
Promotion: Family Fun Pack Sunday - Families of four receive four tickets, four hot dogs, four drinks, four bags of chips, two programs, one mini bat and one logo ball for only $29 with a coupon in The Augusta Chronicle.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.