CONYERS -- With the Sun Belt League playoffs looming, the Rockdale A's are having trouble finding ways to win.
Wednesday at Heritage High School, Rockdale's struggles continued in its fourth consecutive loss, 7-4 to the Atlanta Crackers. It was the third and final encounter of the regular season between the teams -- the Crackers won two of three -- following their meeting in last season's championship game won by Rockdale.
The Crackers got a strong start from southpaw Joe Ryan, a Jacksonville University product. Ryan allowed just a second-inning solo home run to Blake Parrot and scattered three other hits through his first four innings.
Meanwhile, the Crackers got to Rockdale right-hander Eric Pettepher early on, while taking advantage of some poor defense to grab the lead for good. In the top of the second, Drew Carnes singled and Will Davis reached on a throwing error by second baseman Tony Baker. Two batters later, Bo Buckler's double play ground out scored Carnes and Davis scooted home on Pettepher's wild pitch for a 2-0 lead.
Pettepher got the first two outs in the third on three pitches, but things unraveled from there. Jim Moreland struck out, but reached on a passed ball by Blake McCullers, then Jaret Northcutt and Carnes stroked consecutive doubles to make it a 4-1 game.
"We get a strikeout and don't get the out, that cost us the two runs," Rockdale manager Bill Dallas said. "That was huge."
The A's got a run in the fifth on Alex Walker's run-scoring single and Walker and Jeremy Boyd drove in runs in the sixth as Ryan left after six innings of four-run ball on 125 pitches.
"He's really a middle reliever for us, but he's ready to throw, he's here every night," Crackers assistant coach Steve Autry said. "He's a rubber-arm pitcher, (and) Joe threw the ball well for us today."
Facing Brandon Crumbley, the Crackers added insurance runs in the sixth on Buckler's RBI groundout and a run-scoring double by Wes Hollins to make it a 6-2 game before Walker and Boyd made it 6-4 in the bottom of the frame. John Spitler (2 IP, 1 H) and James Connell (1 IP, 2 K) made the lead stand up, while Atlanta added a run in the ninth on an error by third baseman Justin Pharr.
Along with the two errors and passed ball that led to four unearned runs, Rockdale's offense left 12 men on base, including eight in scoring position.
"Nothing you can say or do, just keep battling through it," Dallas said. "(They are) just struggling at the plate. These guys are grown men, they know what to do with runners in scoring position. You can't make excuses, you got to battle."