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May 15—The Battle of I-75 shifted to Fifth Third Field on Friday night as rivals Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo put on a show on the downtown diamond.

Toledo, which was the home team at the Mud Hens’ ballpark, fell behind 1-0 before securing a 5-2 win in a Mid-American Conference game that had a little bit of everything. A crowd of 2,530 was the largest to ever attend a college baseball game at the Triple-A stadium.

The Rockets turned a rare triple play, smacked a home run, and got a solid starting pitching performance from Napoleon graduate Layne Schnitz-Paxton.

Toledo right fielder John Servello smashed a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth to stake the Rockets to a 3-1 lead.

The contest, which was the first in a planned annual event, was the opener of a four-game series hosted by the Rockets (17-27, 15-13 MAC), with the other three games being played at Scott Park.

“It was great,” Servello said. “A lot of people came and it was a different energy. We were so excited to get to play here. We were fired up. And it’s our rivals. It would be great to continue doing this. I think it’s good for college baseball around here.”

BG (13-27, 11-19 MAC) had its bats going as the Falcons had 10 hits, but they scratched across just two runs.

Toledo coach Rob Reinstetle said both teams played good baseball.

“This is our rival and this environment was unreal,” Reinstetle said. “We had 2,500-plus here and the majority were Toledo people. I think this will help get people excited about Toledo baseball and what we’re doing.”

Schnitz-Paxton gave up two earned runs on eight hits while striking out five in six innings of work.

“I had a lot of friends and family here. It was good to come out and play well in a big-league park like this and get a W against our rivals,” Schnitz-Paxton said. “It’s a big stage. It was nice to hear the roars when things went well. I’m glad they’re going to do this every year.”

Reinstetle said he set up his rotation to make sure Schnitz-Paxton would get the start.

“We wanted him to pitch this game mainly because he’s a senior,” Reinstetle said. “For him to be a local guy to pitch in this environment is special for him.”

The Rockets turned the uncommon triple play with two Falcons runners on and no outs in the fourth inning. BG’s runners were on the move on a hit and run when Tyler Ross lifted a soft fly to shallow right. Servello, UT’s right fielder, threw to second baseman Scott Mackiewicz after making the catch to double up the lead runner, and Mackiewicz then threw to first base to complete the unusual feat.

“We’ve actually had two of those this year,” Reinstetle said. “We hit into one in the second week. You just don’t see triple plays that often. Tonight that got us out of trouble and saved his pitch count.”

Servello, who went 2 for 4 with two runs scored, crushed the no-doubt homer to straightaway left field.

“I just hit it hard and ran to first,” he said. “It felt good off the bat. Everyone came together. It was a ton of fun out there.”

The Falcons trailed 3-1 in the top of the seventh when they loaded the bases with no outs as Schnitz-Paxton left the game.

Bowling Green High School graduate Adam Furnas, who had two hits, then came up with an RBI single to pull BG within a run. But Ty Johnston was then thrown out at the plate when attempting to score on a past ball. Toledo shortstop Trace Hatfield then got to a hit up the middle and first baseman Mason Sykes made a good scoop to get the third out.

Toledo answered with a single run in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single from Chris Meyers, who had singled, that plated Servello for a 4-2 lead.

The Rockets added an insurance run in the eighth when Zach Schwartzenberger drove in his second run of the night with an RBI single that made it 5-2.

It was a perfect 70 degrees with sunshine blanketing the diamond at first pitch.

“The Mud Hens were awesome to let us do this,” Reinstetle said. “From the minute I got hired, I started talking about playing downtown and I wanted it to be an impactful game. We made it happen.”

Bowling Green manufactured the game’s first run in the top of the second. Center fielder Jack Krause doubled to lead off and moved to third on a sac bunt by Tyler Haas. He then scored on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt down the first-base line by Adam Fallon, who also nearly beat the throw to first and earned the game’s first RBI.

Toledo responded with two runs in the bottom of the second to take a 2-1 lead. UT’s Mason Sykes just missed hitting a two-run home run in the bottom of the second as his deep drive down the left-field line curled just to the left of the foul pole.

But the Rockets then tied it on a solid RBI single from Schwartzenberger that platted Darryn Davis. Sykes, who had walked, then scored the go-ahead run on a sac fly to center field by Marcus Strother.

Schnitz-Paxton overcame his throwing error in the top of the first and UT stranded 13 BG runners.

“The big thing for me was to throw strikes and the defense stays in the game more and they are ready to make plays. You can see what happens, they’re pretty good,” Schnitz-Paxton said.

Bowling Green starter Gage Schenk also worked out of an early jam as he struck out the side after allowing a one-out double by Servello.

UT catcher Marcus Strother helped Schnitz-Paxton work out of trouble in the sixth. With runners at the corners and no outs, Strother made a perfect throw to cut down an attempted steal. Schnitz-Paxton then struck out the next two batters to protect the two-run cushion.

UT pitcher Jordan Power performed well with three innings of solid relief work to earn the save.

The Falcons loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the ninth. Nathan Rose just missed hitting a grand slam when his shot went just left of the left-field foul pole. Rose then popped out before a strikeout and a pop-out ended the game.

Reinstetle said his team pitched out of jams and got timely hits when it needed them.

“We kept stretching the lead and the rest is history,” Reinstetle said.

First Published May 14, 2021, 10:45pm