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ZEBULON — With the crowd at Five County Stadium on the edge of its collective seat, Carolina Mudcats reliever Anthony Bender saved the day by striking out Frederick Keys batter Yeltin Gudino for the final out to preserve the Mudcats’ 6-5 victory in the second game of Friday’s Advanced-A Carolina League doubleheader.
More importantly, for the spectators, the postgame fireworks extravaganza — originally scheduled for the Fourth of July on Thursday but rained out along with the game — could proceed without further delay.
The Mudcats, 47-38 overall, won the first of two seven-inning games by a 2-0 count to even their second-half mark at 8-8.
Bender, making just his second appearance with Carolina after being promoted from the Single-A Midwest League Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on Monday, got his first save after taking over for Mudcats closer Rodrigo Benoit, who entered the seventh inning with a 6-0 lead. However, Frederick (34-52 overall, 5-11 second half) quickly loaded the bases on an error, walk and the first of three straight singles. The last, a two-run single by Trevor Craport, ended Benoit’s chances for his 13th save.
Bender struck out the first batter he faced but then gave up an RBI single to Ryan Ripken, the son of Baltimore Orioles hall-of-famer Cal Ripken Jr. Another strikeout followed by then Bender hit a Frederick batter and uncorked a wild pitch to bring in the fifth run and put the tying run on third base, heightening the anxiety within Five County.
But Bender fanned Gudino, who led off the inning by reaching on an error, on six pitches.
The adventurous save made a winner out of Carolina starting pitcher Matt Smith (3-7), who followed a seven-inning shutout by Christian Taugner in the first game with five scoreless innings in the nightcap. Smith gave up four singles and walked none while striking out four Frederick batters.
Tristen Lutz stroked a one-out RBI double then scored on catcher Payton Henry’s two-out single up the middle off Frederick starter Blaine Knight (0-6).
Lutz drilled a solo home run in the bottom of the third, his ninth of the season, and first baseman Ryan Aguilar cracked a three-run homer in the fifth to give the Mudcats a 6-0 lead. Lutz, Aguilar and left fielder Wes Rogers each had two of Carolina’s seven hits.
In the first game, the Mudcats did most of their offensive work in the first inning against Keys starter David Lebron (2-4). Rogers led off with a single and scrambled to third base on a double by the next hitter, Aguilar. Lutz grounded out to second, allowing Rogers to score. With two out, Henry smacked a single to center field to bring in Aguilar.
The two runs were more than enough for Taugner (4-5), who scattered five hits and walked one while fanning five. Keys second baseman Patrick Dorrian had three of their five hits, including a lead-off double in the fifth. After moving over to third on a sacrifice bunt, however, Dorrian was gunned down at the plate by Lutz while trying to score on a fly ball to right, ending the inning.
The teams conclude the three-game series Saturday at 6 p.m. The Mudcats will host the Lynchburg Hillcats in the first game of another three-game series Sunday at 2 p.m.