Pitching stands out in Cyclones’ home opener 

After losing three hard-fought games to start the season on the road in Wilmington, the Cyclones badly needed a win for their April 9 home opener in Coney Island against the Asheville Tourists. In response to their rough start, the team sent the Mets’ 2023 No. 2 draft pick Brandon Sprout, from the University of Florida, to the mound for his much-anticipated minor league debut.

Pitching two easy scoreless innings to start the game, the former Florida Gator ran into trouble early in the third inning by walking the first three Asheville batters. With no outs and the bases loaded, Sprout regained his composure and struck out the next two batters to set up a relief appearance by Jordany Ventura. After reaching his pitch count limit of 60, Sprout was relieved by the former starting pitcher, who struck out the last batter to keep the Tourists off the board. Ventura then went on to pitch 3.1 impressive scoreless innings in middle relief, striking out five while giving up three hits, for the win.

Reliever Jordany Ventura pitched three scoreless innings to earn the win. Photo by Jim Dolan

Also impressive on the mound was the game’s closer Justin Lawson, who, like Sprout, was also making his pro debut. Lawson finished the game by pitching three scoreless innings to earn the save, striking out four and giving up just one hit for the Cyclones’ 3-0 win. In all, the three Cyclone pitchers dominated on the mound, recording a total of 14 strikeouts.

The Cyclones got on the board in the first inning when Omar De Los Santos doubled to center and then stole third and scored on the Asheville catcher’s overthrow down the left field line. In the fourth inning Junior Tillien singled home William Lugo for the Cyclones’ second run. With a 2-0 lead going into the eighth inning, former Asheville Tourist Ryan Clifford crushed a high outside fastball over center field for an insurance run, allowing the team to breathe a little easier going into the ninth.

“Five walks was not what I wanted but I was still able to compete and battle back,” said Sprout, who also complimented Ventura on his relief performance.

“He was able to come in to seal the deal,” Sprout said. “Props to him for that.”

“I’ll watch the positives and the negatives from this game on video and look forward from there,” he added.

“Our pitching staff pitched a great game and [Christian] Pregent also called a great game keeping them on their toes, ” said Clifford, who came to the Cyclones via the Mets’ Justin Verlander trade to Houston last season.

About his first home run of the season, Clifford said, “I feel more comfortable here now. We’re always looking to tack on some extra runs late in the game and I look forward to adding some more during the season.”

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