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Collegiate baseball: Escobar, Diorio lift Rams to win in 9th

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WATERTOWN — Designated hitter Matt Diorio provided the Watertown Rams with a walk-off RBI single and a 5-4 victory over the Adirondack Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, the Rams’ eighth win over their last 10 games.

But while Diorio’s base hit sealed the victory for the first place club in the West Division, the ninth-inning performance from closer Jon Escobar, and the bold decision to bring him in from head coach Paul Alteri, positioned Watertown to win the game.

Baseball teams blessed with quality closers often calculate the risk of bringing their anchor into a tied game or leaving him in the bullpen.

Alteri has such a closer in Escobar, the Perfect Game Collegiate League leader in saves through the month of June. He has earned the nickname “The Gas Man” because, well, he throws hard.

But with Watertown (14-9) knotted up 4-4 with Adirondack heading into the ninth inning, some would have left capable set-up man Jake Sale in for a second inning.

Alteri, on the other hand, was sure of his decision.

“No panic when Jonny’s got the ball on the mound, none whatsoever,” Alteri said. “As a team we’re confident with him on the mound in that situation. We’re good with him.”

Adding drama to the moment was the closer himself, as Escobar put the lead off batter, center fielder Garrett Longhurst, on base with a walk. Escobar knew he had forced himself in a corner and would have to battle back.

“I really had to buckle down mentally because a problem during my spring season with Holy Cross was getting behind hitters and walking the lead-off guy,” Escobar said. “More often than not the lead-off guy comes around to score. So I really had to buckle down there. They kind of gave me a treat there by not trying to bunt and move him over to second.”

By electing not to bunt Longhurst over, the Trail Blazers were banking on producing at least one clean hit against the league’s best closer. If they were expecting anything beside hard, four-seam fastballs on either side of the plate, then they were mistaken.

“From there I threw all fastballs but I located and I got the job done,” Escobar said.

“The kid’s good,” Diorio said. “He’s lights out. The unbelievable stuff he has. He just pounds the fastball and he’s got that curveball too.”

Escobar would strike out three consecutive batters to end the inning. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, the Rams got the inning started with a one-out base on balls from leadoff hitter Santino Alteri.

Alteri stole second base during Chris Gaetano’s at bat, which set up the speedy second basemen to score on Diorio’s rip to center field.

Diorio finished 2-for-4 on the night with three RBIs, none of which were bigger than his walk-off single with two outs in the ninth.

“A man on third, two outs, I’m looking to hit the ball hard,” Diorio said. “I’m trying not to make it easy on them. Make them make a play.”

Escobar picks up the win, his second win in 11 appearances. He now has 23 strikeouts in just 12.1 innings on the season. Watertown starter Sean Rackoski went six innings and allowed three runs (two earned) in a no-decision.

Rams center fielder James Bonds went 2-for-4 and scored the first of two critical runs in the seventh inning. Shortstop Robbie Alessandrine also scored that inning and made several outstanding plays in the field.

The Rams are now winners of four straight games.

“We got off to a slow start because we didn’t have everyone here,” said Escobar of the team’s 4-6 beginning. “We had guys coming in from all over the country. But now we have a full squad and looking ahead you can expect more win streaks like this.”

“We just got to keep working,” Diorio said. “We struggled in the beginning of the season, then we found it — just a bunch of new guys and it clicked. Now we’re rolling.”

Coach Alteri sees what his players see.

“We’re happy where we are right now, even knowing we can get better, too, in all aspects of our game,” Paul Alteri said. “We’re feeling good and we’re going to go with the rhythm now that’s for sure.”

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