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Justin Jones (UNLV) was scrambling. Not the metaphorical kind of scrambling that filled his start with the Anglers — an 0-for-13 stretch that mired his first week of play. The actual kind.
He was due up first to start the third inning and was late to the plate. He couldn’t find his gloves, almost put the wrong helmet on his head, then rushed to the plate hoping he wouldn't get “chewed” by Brewster starter Tyger Talley.
But that’s far from what happened. Jones took a first-pitch fastball and hit one of the longest — scratch that, the longest — home run at Veterans Field this season. The bullpen didn’t see who was at the plate but looked up to see a ball bouncing around Depot Rd. way beyond the right-field wall. They thought it was towering slugger Chris Shaw (Boston College), but the far smaller Jones was rounding the bases instead.
“He just gave me my cookie. Middle in for a lefty,” Jones said.
Before his solo home run to leadoff the third, Jones cleared the bases with a three-run triple in a five-run first. He finished with two hits and four RBIs in an eventual 8-3 Chatham (16-20-1) win over the Whitecaps (12-24-1) on Friday night, which ups the Anglers’ lead over last-place Brewster to a settling eight points.
Jerry Keel (California-Northridge) earned the win after relieving starter P.J. Conlon (San Diego) and giving up one run in five innings to finish the game. Talley was hooked for the loss after yielding eight runs on six hits in just two frames.
“That’s the player we were expecting to get,” Anglers manager John Schiffner said of Jones. “We had him on our roster to start the year and then told him we’d do anything we could to get him back. That worked out and he’s a player, a really good player.”
What originally derailed Jones’ Chatham arrival was a wrist injury that could have taken the whole summer to recover from. But Jones' road back was hastier than expected and when Garrett Hampson (Long Beach State) went down with an injury of his own, he was called in.
His start was less than desirable, but it was one he could laugh about after the win. He called his wrist injury something that “happened for a reason,” smiled while saying he didn’t know it was 13 official at-bats without a hit and joked that he was waiting for a home game to get going.
After two runs came across in the bottom of the first — on a single by Shaw and a Whitecaps throwing error — Jones turned a 3-2 offering into a three-run triple. What looked like it could clear the fence off the bat whizzed past Gio Brusa’s glove and into the base of the right-field wall. Shaw, Nick Collins (Georgetown) and Jake Fraley (LSU) raced into score and Jones clung to the bag after sliding past third.
Welcome to Chatham.
“I was trying to stay as positive as possible,” Jones said. “I was just waiting for that hit and I was aggressive and it worked out for me. And I was glad that it was at home.”
While Jones’ extra-base hits helped build a sizable margin, a pair of lefties preserved it. Conlon wasn’t particularly stingy in his third start of the season, but Keel settled any brewing storm. The 6-foot-6 southpaw was stellar in his third appearance, setting down 13 straights hitters before giving up a two-out home run to Zach Gibbons in the top of the ninth. That was also the first hit he allowed, and finished with two next to his name.
“It was cool that two new guys could help the team a lot tonight,” said Keel of himself and Jones. “Hopefully we can both keep helping this team in the playoff push.”
After the team’s athletic trainers wrapped Keel’s arm in ice after the game, Kyle Davis (Southern California) and Jordan Hillyer (Kennesaw State) took the rest of the water cooler and dumped it on Jones. He tried to jump out of the way but didn't escape a drop.
And he took it in stride. Just like everything else.
“I’m sore and actually needed that,” said Jones, his jersey irrigated with a mix of water and ice. “Man, it feels good.”