HIGH POINT — Stuart Levy’s only trip to the plate for the Rockers on Friday night proved to be a big one.
Levy, who came into the game with a .125 batting average, laced a two-run single that eventually proved to be the game-winning hit as High Point posted a 3-2 victory in the first visit by new Atlantic League foe Gastonia to Truist Point stadium.
“It’s a grinding game,” Rockers manager Jamie Keffe said. “I’ll take 3-2 every night if that’s what we have to do to win.”
Rockers starter Luke Westphal tossed 5 ⅔ scoreless innings to keep a 0.00 ERA and reliever Nefi Ogando wriggled out of a bases-loaded situation in the ninth to preserve the win and nail down a save. High Point improved to 6-2 and kept first place in the South division while Gastonia dropped to 3-5.
Levy’s clutch hit capped a three-run third inning off loser William Kirwin that put the Rockers up 3-0.
With Adam Taylor and James McOwen on base, Logan Morrison hit a fly ball that the centerfielder Boog Powell dropped, allowing Taylor to score before McOwen was thrown out at second.
Michael Russell and Jared Mitchell followed with walks, designated hitter Levy then singled to left, scoring the runners with Mitchell beating the throw to the plate.
By the time Levy’s spot in the batting order came up the next time in the sixth, Westphal had been replaced, which meant Levy was gone also because of the Atlantic League’s “double-hook” rule that kills the DH when the starting pitcher is pulled.
“(Levy) looked really good in York (the first four games of the season),” Keefe said. “His timing has been a little bit off. He worked on a few things today in BP and he felt a lot better at the plate and had a lot more confidence.”
Westphal scattered three hits, struck out four and walked six in picking up his first win.
“Right now, I’m just trying to throw strikes.” Westphal said. “Sometimes hitters are a little bit slower coming out of the gate. I’ve gotten to throw to (catcher) Logan Moore in both starts and threw to him last year so we’ve really been on the same page. So that helps a lot as well.”
Westphal was lifted after walking the bases loaded and forcing the second out of the sixth.
“I might have run out of gas a little bit,” Westphal said. “I’m a Wisconsin guy and this is North Carolina. I went out there and I was having issues with command and trying to make a few adjustments. The adjustments didn’t work. I thought I had pretty good command but maybe I ran out of gas a little.”
Kyle Halbohn replaced Westphal and got out the inning by coaxing a weak dribbler back to him.
After Halbohn pitched a scoreless seventh, Gastonia scored both of its runs in the eighth off Brian Clark.
The first run scored when a misplayed fly ball dropped for a ground-rule double, and a sacrifice fly produced the second.
Ogando pitched all of the ninth. With runners on second and third following a single, a walk and two stolen bases, Keefe decided to intentionally walk Jake Skole to create the possibility of a force out at any base.
Miles Williams hit a bouncer to Ogando, who tossed the ball to Moore for a force out at the plate to end the game.
“I thought Clark pitched well but we didn’t play defense behind him,” Keefe said. “We got in that situation at the end and Williams wasn’t going to beat us. Nobody wants to put the winning run on but when you’re at home, you’ve got to believe in your guys.
“I had the right guy out there. The guy stole second and Skole’s at the plate so put him on too. Lefty on righty, you take your chance but you have a force at every bag. So you go attack. Nefi is so comfortable and knows what he’s trying to do. He and Logan (Moore) have worked together a lot of times so it was great.”
The Rockers and Honey Hunters meet in the second game of a three-game series Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Ricky Knapp is the projected starter for the Rockers.