Walkoff winner

Nelson’s base hit wins it for Scrappers

Tribune Chronicle photos / Joe Simon Mahoning Valley’s Hosea Nelson, right, gets a congratulatory handshake from teammate Mitch Reeves after Nelson connected for a game-winning two-run hit in the Scrappers’ 6-5 victory Saturday.

NILES — There was a Star Wars theme at Eastwood Field on Saturday night, with players wearing jerseys that illustrated the longtime movie series.

And the force was, indeed, with the Scrappers.

Mahoning Valley continued its wild start to the season, rallying from three runs down with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Williamsport, 6-5.

Hosea Nelson smashed a line-drive to right-center field with the bases loaded to give the Scrappers the victory. Nelson was mobbed by his teammates just past second base as Mahoning Valley (15-6) celebrated another home victory.

“That’s my first walk-off ever,” Nelson said, “so I was feeling pretty good.”

Williamsport catcher Jesse Wilkening looks toward the infield after tagging out the Scrappers’ Mitch Reeves, bottom, at home plate. Williamsport pitcher Manuel Silva (11) looks on during the play.

So was the crowd of 3,863, and it wasn’t just because fireworks followed the game.

Trailing 5-2 with two outs, the Scrappers’ Tre Gantt singled to bring up the top of the lineup. Jose Fermin then reached when the Crosscutters (8-13) third baseman bobbled a slow grounder and made an errant throw. Tyler Freeman, who leads the New York-Penn League with a .427 batting average, was hit in the ribs by a pitch to load the bases.

Richie Palacios, the Cleveland Indians third-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, was down to his last strike but worked a walk to bring in a run. After a pitching change, Mitch Reeves, who also had two strikes on him, was hit by a pitch to make it 5-4. That brought Nelson to the plate, and he was waiting for a 3-1 fastball that he hammered to the gap to easily score the winning runs.

“It was a cookie,” said a smiling Nelson, referring to the pitch being down the middle. “With how they were playing me, I had that double to the left-center gap in my first at-bat, so they were playing a shift on me all night. It worked out perfectly.”

Things seem to be working out that way for the Scrappers so far this year.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Mahoning Valley starting pitcher Juan Mota winds up to deliver a pitch during the Scrappers’ 6-5 victory over Williamsport on Saturday.

They have the best record in the NY-PL and have led the Pinckney Division since the season opener (they’re currently three games ahead of Auburn). A team with a bunch of players who just met — with new players joining the team every week — seems to have built instant chemistry. Sure, some of the team played together in Arizona at extended spring training, but the camaraderie continues even as players move on and as others join in.

Nelson said the overall approach and attitude is contagious. Even down three runs with two outs during what seemed to be a lackluster performance, players put together quality at-bats in the ninth inning to extend and eventually win the game.

“It starts with our big-league team, honestly,” Nelson said of the Cleveland Indians. “You watch the Indians, and they have a never-say-die attitude, and I think it stems all the way down to us. In extended (spring training), we work on pushing through mental obstacles, like hitting balls hard but lining out. You’ve got to continue to push through it, and we did a lot of that tonight.

“What our manager (Jim Pankovits) talks a lot about is moving the line along, and we do a really good job of that, especially late in ballgames.”

The victory came after the Scrappers lost their first series of the season. Mahoning Valley has lost five games this year and has responded with a victory after each one. Saturday might have been its most thrilling yet.

Pankovits, despite his even-keel demeanor, appears to be enjoying the ride.

“We had a couple of those (walk-off victories) earlier in the season, the first week,” he said. “It’s been a while, and we have been scuffling a little bit lately — we lost our first series yesterday — so it was nice to see these guys bounce back and get a big win.”

Game 2 of the three-game series is at 4 p.m. today. Starting for MV is 19-year-old phenom Luis Oviedo, who leads the league in ERA (0.39), strikeouts (34) and WHIP (0.52). He’s already twice been named the NY-PL Pitcher of the Week.

Nelson expects the good times to keep rolling, but not just because of Oviedo.

“Our team does a really good job of not having an ego,” Nelson said. “There’s nobody here that, if you go 0-for-4 but we win, there’s nobody that’s going to be moping about it. We do a really good job of being in every pitch, being locked in on offense, defense — just an all-around complete game. (But) I think that’s the biggest thing is not having an ego, not being real selfish and putting the team before you.”