Squirrels pull to within a half game of wild card

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Flying Squirrels are less than a game away from a playoff spot. The Richmond Flying Squirrels (72-63) racked up 15 hits to cruise past the New Britain Rock Cats (68-66), 10-5, in the opener of a four-game series in front 6,079 at The Diamond on Monday night.

New Britain got off to a quick start against Richmond right-hander Justin Fitzgerald in the first inning.  Brian Dozier started the ballgame with a single back through the middle.  Yangervis Solarte bunted him to second base, and he advanced to third base on a fly out from Joe Benson.  Chris Parmalee made it 1-0 when he sent a hot-shot to first base that took a terrible hop over the top of Richmond first baseman Wes Hodges.  The bad-hop base hit brought in Dozier with an earned run charged to Fitzgerald.

The Squirrels got even quickly in the bottom of the inning against Rock Cats' left­-hander Logan Darnell.  Darren Ford started Richmond with a bunt-single pushed up the first-base line.  Charlie Culberson followed with a single to left-center field, moving Ford to second base.  Francisco Peguero bounced into a fielder's choice, with Ford taking third on the play.  He scored from there when Chris Dominguez lifted a sacrifice-fly to right field.

The Rock Cats seized the lead again in the third inning, sparked by a one-out double from Solarte.  Fitzgerald walked the next two batters, Benson and Parmalee, to load the bases with one out.  Fitzgerald uncorked a wild-pitch with Evan Bigley at the plate to bring in a run, giving New Britain a 2-1 lead.

Again, Richmond bounced right back, leveling the ballgame in the bottom of the third.  Skyler Stromsmoe led off with a single, and moved to third on a single from Ford.  A batter later, Peguero bounced out with the infield back, as New Britain conceded Stromsmoe's run to tie the game, 2-2.

The Squirrels forged ahead for the first time in the bottom of the fourth inning.  With one out, Johnny Monell cracked a single back through the middle.  Juan Perez followed and lashed a single into right-center field, putting runners at the corners with one out in the frame.  Perez departed from first on the first pitch to Jackson Williams.  Williams cracked a single into right-center field, scoring Monell and moving Perez to third.  Stromsmoe added a sacrifice-fly to center field, giving Richmond a 4-2 lead after four innings.

Richmond blew the game wide open in the bottom of the sixth inning, chasing Darnell in the process.  With Williams aboard with two down in the inning, Darnell walked Stromsmoe and was lifted in favor of right-hander Steve Hirschfeld.  He promptly walked Ford to load the bases.  Culberson then delivered a bases-clearing double just fair inside the third-base line.  Peguero followed with a two-run blast to right-center field, putting the Squirrels comfortably in front, 9-2.

Darnell (1-1) was saddled with the loss over 5 2/3 innings.  He was charged with six earned runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out three as he loss for the first time at the Double-A level.

Fitzgerald (9-9) rebounded from his early troubles to post a quality-start and earn his ninth win of the season.  He worked six innings, allowed two earned runs on six hits, walked four and struck out three.

New Britain tallied three runs over their final two offensive frames, but the gulf was too large.  Richmond added a final tally in the bottom of the eighth inning, and had closer Heath Hembree finish the ballgame in the top of the ninth inning.

Game two of the four-game series is scheduled for 7:05 PM on Tuesday night at The Diamond.  LHP Chuck Lofgren (3-1, 3.38) will make the start for Richmond against RHP Bobby Lanigan (7-9, 4.43) for the Rock Cats.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.