Toronto Maple Leafs tied up the best-of-five Intercounty Baseball League championship series at 1-1, defeating the London Majors 6-4 on Sunday afternoon in Toronto.
Leafs catcher Justin Marra hit a pivotal three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving Toronto a 5-3 lead – its first of the series.
The Toronto native could not have picked a better time for a big hit, as manager Damon Topolie explained after the game.
“To have a big moment like that, that’s why we play and that’s the situation we’re in right now,” said Topolie. “You need your better players to have big performances.”
The home run was set up by a pair of singles by Chandler McLaren and Jordan Castaldo, putting Majors starter Owen Boon in a difficult situation.
“We had Jordan Costaldo go five-for-five today, that starts the ball rolling,” said Topolie. “When you get guys on base, it puts pressure on the pitcher and that’s all we can do.”
Third baseman Johnathan Solazzo added a solo homer in the seventh inning to extend the Leafs’ lead to 6-3.
Austin Wilkie continued his solid post season for London, going two-for-four including a two-run home run in the second inning.
Boon, who led the league in wins during the regular season, cruised through four innings and was able to get out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth. The London native was unable recreate that magic in the sixth, giving up the lead and eventually taking the loss.
On the other hand, Leafs starter Marek Deska picked up the win, throwing six innings and allowing three earned runs on seven hits while striking out two.
“Deska is a veteran in this league, and I had the right guy on the mound today,” said Topolie. “He guts his performances out, he just fills up the strike zone like he always does. He’s a true veteran of this league and he comes up in the big moment, and that’s what he did today.”
Toronto’s bullpen kept its momentum from Friday night’s contest, with Andrew Hyde and Dustin Richardson holding off the Majors’ lineup in the last three innings.
Hyde pitched two innings, striking out three and giving up one run, while Richardson picked up the save in a scoreless ninth.
The Leafs flashed some leather towards the end of the game with Solazzo and centre-fielder Connor Lewis making clutch defensive plays in the eighth and ninth innings.
“Those are phenomenal plays and Connor made a heck of a catch in game one. These games are so tight you need those big plays,” said Topolie. “We have a veteran team; those guys know the moment and they know what they need to do.”
Supporting the Leafs on a brisk and windy afternoon was their hometown crowd at Christie Pits, where Toronto now has a combined 14-4 record in the regular season and playoffs.
“You look across the hill it was a big crowd today and it’s been like that all year,” said Topolie. “It’s a great atmosphere and it really helps to play in front of that many people.”
With the series now tied at 1-1, both teams head back to London for a crucial game three at Labatt Memorial Park on Tuesday night.