Simply put, Harold Riggins is a good listener.
After the Mallards blew a one run lead in the ninth inning Monday night, manager C.J. Thieleke told Riggins to hit a walk-off home run on Opening Day, and Riggins took his coach’s words seriously.
One swing of the bat later, the Mallards were walking off the field as victors, grinding out a 7-6 win over Rochester that featured 11 errors between the two teams.
Mallards starting pitcher Jordan Hershiser (USC) became a distant memory early in the game, when he was taken out after 1.1 innings after giving up three hits and hitting three batters.
Bad defense from the Mallards led to three unearned runs for Rochester, keeping the Honkers in the game and even giving them a chance to win in the ninth inning. But on this night, Riggins (NC State) just had a bit too much power.
“I hit a slider, he hung it a little bit,” Riggins said. “I thought I was out in front of it, but I guess I hit it hard enough for it to get out…Man, that was awesome.”
On the day, Riggins went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, both of which came on his walk-off blast. He raised his batting average to .273 and also scored two of the Mallards’ seven runs.
The Honkers blew a strong relief appearance from Arik Sikula (Marshall), who struck out six batters in his 4.2 innings pitched. Also, Rochester failed to capitalize on seven Mallards errors that could have caused much more damage than they did.
“In our defense, the infield was a bit fast,” Thieleke said. “It’s not really an excuse, but I think our guys played well…Obviously it’s something we need to work on, but overall I think our defense has been good.”
The Mallards went down 3-0 early in the game when Hershiser was struggling, allowing six base runners in his short outing. However, the Mallards tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Kurtis Muller (Iowa) hit a double down the right field line.
In the top of the ninth, after two strong innings from Kyle Heim (Iowa), Thieleke brought in hurler Nick Chmielewski (Illinois), who struck out the first batter he faced. But next up, Drew Beuerlein (UNLV), smacked a single to center field to score two runs, giving the Honkers the lead.
But in the bottom of the frame, fortunes turned for the Mallards. After Adam McClain (Memphis) walked, Riggins crushed a 1-1 pitch to straight away to center, with fellow NC State outfielder John Gianis only being able to watch it go over the fence. The crowd and the whole team went into a frenzy, giving the 5,221 fans in attendance reason to celebrate an Opening Day victory.
Tuesday, the Mallards will look to complete a sweep of Rochester as Matt Jansen (Purdue) takes the mound for the second time this season. Zach Robertson (Iowa) will pitch for the Honkers, who are looking to win their fourth game of the season.