NEWTOWNBREDA, Northern Ireland – Sam Ross was solid on the mound for Durham (7-1-1) and Brad Jones drilled a pair of solo shots, but a series of throwing errors led to a 4-4 draw against Dublin Spartans in the opening game of the Ulster Invitational Tournament.
Dublin Spartans, one of several teams in Ireland’s capital, are fielding a mixed side of the first and second teams. Their top-level squad boasts a 4-3 record in Ireland’s top circuit.
Jones got the Black-and-Purple off to a good start with a two-out roundtripper in the first, connecting on the first pitch and driving it out to centre. That was all against Dublin’s Norbert Ciprik, and Ross took the hill in the bottom of the frame.
The Spartans look to jump out to a sizeable margin on a leadoff single, followed by a double from Alan. They would even the score on an errant throw by the catcher before Ross walked the No. 3 hitter. A catch on a ball to right by Jack Andrew and a quick throw in prevented another run, and Ross looked to keep the score knotted on a weak grounder to the mound, but overthrew first to give Dublin its only lead of the game.
The Palatinates would take the lead back in the second after T.J. Garske led off with a single and stole second. Marcus Helland moved him to third on a single, but Garske scampered home after the leftfielder had trouble picking up the ball.
Helland would move to third on a single before Jack Andrew ripped a ball to right centre, rounding second before hesitating on the move to third. A nifty throw from the centrefielder, relayed by the shortstop would catch Andrew at third. Durham put two more runners on in the inning but could not score.
With the score 3-2, Ross got a quick strikeout to start the second before walking the No. 9 hitter. The righthander induced a sky-high popup to the mound, though the runner moved to second on an errant throw after the out. Alan would follow with another hit to put runners on the corners, and evened the game on an unlucky passed ball that just glanced off the catcher’s glove. Ross would get a flyout to centre to end the inning.
The seesaw game rocked on with Jones leading off in the third. Once more, Durham’s shortstop took the first pitch he saw to centre and the ball dropped just over the fence to the right of centre. Despite a double from Garske, that was all for the Palatinate side in the third.
Ross gave up a hit to start the third, and a stolen base put a runner in scoring position. After a six-pitch walk, Durham got very unlucky as Vass dribbled a ball to third, and the flip from Laurence Hodgkins went under the glove of Harry Winter to score the tying run. Ross would buckle down and keep the score at four, though, finishing the 8-9-1 hitters with two Ks and a flyout.
With the time limit of 110 minutes approaching, Durham got things going in the fourth against as Andrew reached on a walk and Joe Proffitt was hit by a pitch. Ross stepped up looking for the lead and hit a sinking liner to second which the second baseman snared, stepping on second before throwing to first, just beating both runners for a triple play.
After back-to-back free passes from the labouring Ross, Jones came in to close things out, getting a popout before a dropped throw at first base jammed the sacks. Durham’s closer pounded breaking balls to the next hitter, inducing a bouncer to the mound, which Jones threw home for the out. The flamethrower preserved the draw with a strikeout, and the game would end knotted at 4.
Ross hurled three frames, give up four runs on five hits and six walks, though none were earned. He whiffed four. Jones gained credit for a scoreless inning and Durham’s fifth K of the game. He joined Garske as the only hitters with more than one hit, though the team was 7-for-16 in total.
The Palatinate baseballers gain a point for the draw, with the best two teams from the two-group pool advancing to the semifinals. Durham next tests the home side, Ulster Buccaneers, in a 7 p.m. start at Hydebank Park.