Shorebirds lay a licking on the Hoppers

May 17, 2015

Every team is going to have a clunker of a game occasionally during a long baseball season.

And the Hoppers sure had one Sunday.

Delmarva laid an 11-5 licking on Greensboro to win the rubber match of the five-game series.

“We’ve had maybe two games like that this season,” said manager Kevin Randel, whose team is 17-19. “That was the worst one to date.”

Nothing much went right for the Hoppers. When starter Ben Holmes couldn’t make it out of the third inning, it forced Greensboro to use more of its bullpen. Five pitchers eventually gave up 13 hits and, alarmingly, 10 walks.

“Nobody got the job done today,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “They’ve been told time and again about pitching ahead in the count.”

The defense committed three errors and every runner that reached safely that way came around to score.

And although the offense produced 13 hits, many of them were cosmetic, with four hits and two runs coming in the ninth inning when the game was out of reach. The day started badly when the Hoppers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the first. Scoring early might have set a different tone, but John Norwood swung at the first pitch and hit into an inning-ending double play.

“Deflating,” Randel said.

Meanwhile, the Shorebirds did a lot more with their 13 hits, including three doubles that produced seven runs. Conor Bierfieldt had a three-run double in the third, Jonah Heim a two-run double in the fifth and Jomar Reyes a two-run double in the sixth.

Down 5-0, the Hoppers had once chance to get back in it. In the fourth inning, Norwood singled and Justin Twine popped his first homer of the season over the right-field fence. On the next pitch, Ryan Aper drilled a long homer to left and suddenly it was 5-3.

But Delmarva got those three back right away in the top of the fifth, then added three more for insurance in the sixth.

“We couldn’t get that shutdown inning,” Randel said.

The one bright spot Randel saw was the hitting of recently-activated catcher Felix Castillo. Playing in just his third game of the year, Castillo had three hits, including a double.

“He battled his butt off,” Randel said. “He wants to see more playing time and he showed that if you want something bad enough, it makes the game easier to play.”

After playing each other 16 times in 36 games, the teams won’t see each other again until July. Sunday’s win gave the Shorebirds a 9-7 edge in the series.

The Hoppers now head out for seven games on the road, three at Hagerstown starting Monday and four at Lakewood beginning Thursday. Greensboro has a league-worst 6-12 road record.

“If you can’t play .500 on the road, you’re not a very good team,” Randel said.

NOTES: The parent Miami Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond and bench coach Rob Leary. The word is that the minor league system will remain unaffected. That means no one currently managing in the system — like former Hopper Andy Haines at New Orleans — will be promoted. An announcement on the new manager, who may be interim the rest of this season, will come Monday morning … Outfielder Casey Soltis (elbow) will be out about two more weeks while outfielder Isael Soto (torn meniscus) is down for awhile. When Soto is ready to return, he’s likely to be with Batavia rather than Greensboro. Aaron Blanton (wrist) will likely be out several weeks.

Vigil, Woods help Hoppers bounce back

May 16, 2015

The Hoppers picked up the tempo at just the right time Saturday night.

Down 2-0 after the top of the third inning against Delmarva, they got single runs in the third and fourth inning to tie things, then scored four runs in the sixth inning that propelled them to an eventual 8-5 win over the Shorebirds.

“I didn’t like the tempo of the game early,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We came out flat and got a wake-up call.”

The offense came to life in the sixth when it was able to bunch several hits together. K.J. Woods led off with his first homer of the year, a laser shot to right center field. Austen Smith walked and went to third on Justin Twine’s double off the top of the wall in right.
Rodrigo Vigil singled through the drawn-in infield for two runs and John Norwood added a sacrifice fly.

Delmarva cut the lead to 6-5 in the top of the seventh, but the Hoppers added two insurance runs in the eighth.

“K.J. just needs to learn to touch the ball out front and it will jump out of the park,” Randel said.

Vigil had three hits and scored twice. He raised his average to .312 and his RBIs to 15, third on the team behind Arturo Rodriguez (20) and Smith (18).

“He grinds out his at-bats,” Randel said. “That was good situational hitting with two strikes. He’s in a good spot in the order (sixth in this game) because the middle of the lineup is getting on base and he has opportunities to drive in runs.”

The big hit was the two-run single.

“With a runner on third I was looking for something up that I could maybe hit in a gap,” Virgil said. “With two strikes, I had to shorten my swing and look for something comfortable to make good contact.”

Randel also praised the way Vigil called the game from behind the plate. Starter Jorgan Cavanerio went five innings and gave up two runs in his second start since joining the team. Scott Squier gave up three runs, one unearned, but picked up the win. Kyle Fischer retired all six batters he faced, with three strikeouts, to record his first save.

“Fischer really slammed the door,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “His fastball had a lot of life down in the zone. When he pitches like that, he’s as good as anybody.”

It was Squier, recently moved from the rotation to the bullpen, who provided the most crucial inning. In the top of the seventh he gave up a double, a two-run homer, a walk and a single that was also misplayed and cost the Hoppers a run. After four batters, Squier had a runner on second with no one out and had given up three hard hits.

From there he righted himself, getting a groundout, a strikeout and another groundout to strand the tying run at second.

“He bore down and made pitches when he had to,” Powell said. “Those were the biggest outs of the game.”

Vigil said he told Squier to be calm and control what he could control.

“I said ‘you’re leaving the ball up and you’ve got to get it down,'” Vigil said. “Then he threw it down and with control.”

The teams finish the series Sunday at 4 p.m. with each having won twice. Ben Holmes will start for the Hoppers.

NOTES: Norwood had two hits and two RBIs, stole a base and threw out a runner at third base from right field … Woods added a double to his homer and scored twice … Brian Schales also had two hits, including a double … The Hoppers were much more efficient on offense. One night after managing four runs on 14 hits, they scored eight on 11 hits.

Hoppers squander opportunities

May 15, 2015

The opportunities were there for the Hoppers Friday night but they couldn’t convert enough of them and wound up losing 6-4 to Delmarva.

Greensboro banged out 14 hits, including at least one by every batter in the lineup. But the Hoppers left 10 men on base and were just 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

“Our situational hitting wasn’t very good,” said manager Kevin Randel.

The Hoppers had the ideal situation in the ninth inning when Rony Cabrera led off with an infield single, his third hit of the game. Greensboro’s heavy hitters were up next, but Arturo Rodriguez struck out, K.J. Woods grounded out and Austen Smith struck out to end the game.

Mason Davis had a home run and Rodriguez, Brian Schales and Zach Sullivan added RBIs.

On the pitching end, Tyler Kolek battled through a difficult first inning that lasted 15 minutes in which he gave up two runs. He settled down and threw shutout ball the next four innings as the Hoppers took a 3-2 lead.

Kolek came out for the top of the sixth inning, the longest stint of his young career, but gave up a leadoff walk and then a single.

“He earned the right to go back out there,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “But the trouble started with walking the leadoff guy.”

James Buckelew relieved Kolek and the Shorebirds parlayed an infield hit, a four-pitch walk, another infield hit and an RBI groundout to push across three runs and take the lead for good.

“Just a tough-luck inning,” Powell said. “A lot of soft contact and tough plays. I thought (Buckelew) threw the ball fine, with the walk the only blemish.”

Kolek was charged with the loss, his second against three wins.

NOTES: Newcomer Jorgan Cavanerio will start tonight’s game. The 20-year-old right-hander made one start on the road, pitching four innings and allowing two hits and no runs against Rome. Cavanerio made 14 starts at Batavia last summer, going 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA. He began this season in extended spring training after an arm injury … Scott Squier moved to the bullpen to make room for Cavanerio in the rotation … Relief pitcher Jose Arias was released to make room on the roster … Infielder Aaron Blanton (wrist) was placed on the Disabled List and catcher Felix Castillo activated … Jamestown resident Tommy Caudle is filling in all this series for umpire Kyle Wallace, recovering from a concussion. Caudle, a veteran high school and college umpire, has subbed many times over the years in the South Atlantic League.

Twine sets the table for Hoppers’ win over Power

May 4, 2015

Whether success breeds confidence or confidence breeds success, Justin Twine has plenty of both these days.

The young shortstop had his best offensive game of the season Monday night, going 4-for-4 and scoring three runs to propel the Hoppers to a 7-3 win over West Virginia. The victory enabled Greensboro to win the series 3-1 from the Power and finish 4-3 on the home stand.

Twine missed two weeks with a hamstring injury and went hitless in his first 11 at-bats when he came off the disabled list. Since then he has gone 11-for-24 to raise his average from .065 to .236. He has four multi-hit games in his last six outings.

“I feel more relaxed and more confident,” said Twine, the Marlins’ No. 2 pick in last summer’s draft. “I’m staying more loose. I have a tendency to get tight and come off the ball.”

Manager Kevin Randel has inserted Twine mostly in the second spot in the batting order.

“We’ve struggled with consistency there,” Randel said. “It’s a spot where you see more fastballs. He’s a real aggressive hitter and got the bat head out on four at-bats tonight.”

Just as important as the hits were the three runs Twine scored. He singled and scored in the first, doubled and scored in the third, singled and scored in the fourth and singled in the sixth.

“It’s a good feeling to get on base and have my teammates drive me in,” he said. “They have confidence in me.”

Hitting coach Luis Quinones said Twine has gotten his timing back after being rusty from the DL.

“He’s swinging at his pitches, not the pitcher’s pitch,” Quinones said. “We told him ‘just be you, don’t try to do more than you’re capable.’ He’s been more disciplined.”

Arturo Rodriguez had two hits and two RBIs and K.J. Woods, John Norwood, Rodrigo Vigil and Brian Schales added RBIs.

The important thing for the Hoppers’ offense was the way it answered the Power. West Virginia scored in the top of the first and Greensboro got two in the bottom of the inning. When the Power scored a run in the third, the Hoppers came back with four. That made the lead 6-2 and essentially settled the contest.

But things might have taken a different turn early. Starter Scott Squier found himself in a mess to start the game, giving up a walk, a bunt single and an RBI single to the first three batters. After he got an out, an error by third baseman Schales loaded the bases.

A big inning was looming, but Squier coaxed Chase Simpson to fly out to shallow right field, with the runners holding. Elvis Escobar struck out swinging to end the threat.

“He hung in there and made enough pitches to get out of it,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He mixed things up, got some spin on the ball and got them to swing at some balls out of the zone.”

Squier made it through five innings, giving up three runs, and earned his first win of the year, preserved by  four shutout innings from the bullpen. Tyler Kane pitched two innings and gave up two hits and Luis Castillo pitched the last two and retired all six batters he faced.

Now 12-12 overall, the Hoppers will enjoy a day off Tuesday, then head out on the road for three games at Hickory and four at Rome. They’re 3-8 on the road, with seven of those games at Delmarva and the other four at Lakewood. Just seeing somebody different might help.

“We know Hickory’s a good team (16-9 record) and we don’t know much about Rome,” Randel said. “It will be good to see what we’ve got.”

NOTES: Second baseman Mason Davis (hand) should be activated off the disabled list for Wednesday’s game at Hickory … The biggest challenge for the pitching staff on the road is to cut down on its walks. The Hoppers walked 19 Power batters in the four-game series.

Mistakes cost Hoppers in loss to Power

May 3, 2015

There wasn’t much room for error Sunday afternoon, so the mistakes the Hoppers made proved costly in a 4-2 loss to West Virginia.

The offense only mustered five hits against three Power pitchers, who were aided immensely by center fielder Elvis Escobar. The Hoppers couldn’t get anything over or past Escobar, who ran down three long drives, two hit by Austen Smith and another by Ryan Aper.

The pitching again flirted with disaster all day, issuing six more walks to push the total to 17 free passes given to Power hitters in three games. Greensboro pitchers continued to wiggle out of trouble with men on base, but one of the walks, by James Buckelew, finally came around to score in the ninth inning. That gave the Power an important insurance run, making a comeback more unlikely.

What hurt the Hoppers most was some bad base-running. In the fifth inning, after John Norwood doubled in a run, he was picked off second base by Power starter Alex McRae. Instead of having a runner in scoring postion with one out for Justine Twine, there was nobody on base with two outs and Twine flied out to end the inning.

In the seventh, Aaron Blanton drew a one-out walk, stole second and advanced to third on an error by Power shortstop Cole Tucker. Aper, who reached on the error, was picked off by reliever Jake Burnette, an easy out when he tried to step back to the bag rather than dive. Zach Sullivan grounded out to end the inning.

“They were both awful plays,” said manager Kevin Randel. “But the worst was the play at first because we had the tying run on third with less than two outs. That was the big one, the blow to the kidneys.”

Starting pitcher Tyler Kolek battled his way through the first three innings, extending his streak of scoreless innings to 13. But Chase Simpson led off the fourth with a home run and the Power added two more runs to jump in front 3-1. Kolek came out after that and wound up with his first loss of the season.

“He didn’t throw enough quality fastballs,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell, “and that backed him into a corner on the counts. It’s a game of adjustments and you’ve got to make adjustments quicker. He competed well without his best stuff.”

Sam Alvis pitched three hitless innings, although he walked two, and Buckelew finished.

The Hoppers can win the series with a victory in Monday’s 7 o’clock game with Scott Squier on the mound.

“I felt like we should have won the game,” Randel said. “If we play (Monday) the way we did today, we won’t have a chance. Maybe we got it out of our system.”

NOTES: Aper was added to the roster and started in center field when Casey Soltis (elbow) was put on the disabled list … Norwood had two of the Hoppers’ five hits … Nick Neumann recorded his fourth save for the Power … The Hoppers’ record slipped to 11-12.

Hoppers pitchers respond well to pressure again

May 2, 2015

Grasshoppers pitchers tempted fate for the second straight game Saturday, but once again they worked their way out of it.

Four pitchers combined to strand 11 West Virginia runners in a 4-1 Greensboro win. That came on the heels on Friday’s 3-2 win in which 11 more Power runners were left on base.

Jose Adames started and hurled five scoreless innings, finishing on a strong note by retiring the side in order in his last inning, the only time all night the Hoppers managed that. Jose Arias and Kyle Fischer combined for three more shutout innings.

Josh Hodges closed things down, in a non-save situation, and was touched for the only run on a bloop double. With runners on second and third, he finished by fanning the last hitter for his third strikeout of the inning.

“That’s the name of the game, pitching with runners on base,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “That’s a difference-maker, seeing what you can do under pressure.

“Adames was electrifying, pitching down in the zone and elevating when he needed to. It was a great bounce-back for him after his last two starts.”

Powell praised the way catcher Rodrigo Vigil called the game and handled the pitchers.

“We mixed up the pitches and they did a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone with good location,” Vigil said.

One thing the Hoppers want to clean up is walks. They issued five Saturday after giving out six Friday.

“That has hurt us all year,” Powell said, “so we might be walking on the edge a little too much. But our pitchers compete and battle under pressure.”

The Hoppers bunched all their scoring in the fourth inning, when Vigil doubled in two runs and John Norwood followed with a two-run homer. Both blows came off Power starter John Sever, who had cruised through the first three innings.

“I saw the ball well today,” said Norwood, who also had a double. “I just wanted to get the bat head out and not try to do too much, for once. I made sure I got my front foot down and used my hands.”

Manager Kevin Randel pointed to a defensive play by Aaron Blanton as particularly important. Although he’s the team’s utility infielder, Blanton found himself in left field for this game because two of the Hoppers’ four outfielders weren’t available. Randel said he could have used Austen Smith, who played one game in left this season, but decided on Blanton for more speed.

“I was told in batting practice,” Blanton said. “The last time I played out there was in high school.”

His speed came in handy in the sixth inning. With Power runners on first and second with two outs, Elvis Escobar hit a slicing line drive toward the left field corner. Blanton made an excellent running catch to save a double and two runs.

“I was a little nervous about the wall,” Blanton said, “but I got a good read on the ball.”

That catch earned the approval of center fielder Norwood.

“I’ve never seen him play left field,” Norwood said, “but he’s got some wheels and he made a good play.”

NOTES: The Hoppers evened their record at 11-11 as Adames picked up his first win of the season … Justin Twine and Arturo Rodriguez joined Norwood with two hits … Tyler Kolek will start Sunday’s 4 p.m. game, looking to extend his streak of 10 consecutive scoreless innings in his last two starts.

Hoppers chill Power behind Mader, Castillo

May 1, 2015

It’s not the easiest thing for a baseball team to endure a 55-minute delay to start a game.

And then it’s not easy to go out and play in 51-degree weather.

The Hoppers managed to push those inconveniences aside Friday night and open a four-game series against the West Virginia Power with a 3-2 win at NewBridge Bank Park.

“Nobody wants to be out there, so it’s who wants it more,” said manager Kevin Randel. “It’s hard to keep the kids ready to play. Seven o’clock comes and they’re supposed to be playing. When there’s a delay they don’t know what to do.”

Starting pitcher Michael Mader came back inside the clubhouse, listened to some music and when the call came to get ready he went outside to stretch and warm up. He didn’t notice the 51 on the temperature sign in center field, a figure he didn’t often see growing up in Marianna, FL.

“I think the coldest weather I’ve pitched in was probably the season opener at Delmarva, when it was 44,” he said. “Tonight it never got cold enough that I couldn’t feel my hands.”

Mader has been tagged with the nickname “Rain Man’ because four of his starts have been delayed by rain and another was postponed a day. He shook things off Friday and delivered five scoreless innings to earn his second victory. It was his third straight strong start and he now has pitched 15 straight shutout innings.

“I’m starting to get consistent command of my fastball from the stretch,” he said. “That was a point of emphasis after the second game of the year.”

The Hoppers gave Mader some runs to work with early, getting RBIs from K.J. Woods, Austen Smith and Justin Twine for a 3-0 lead after two innings. The Power closed with gap with a run off Tyler Kane and another off James Buckelew to shave the lead to one.

Luis Castillo preserved the win with a strong ninth inning. He struck out the first hitter on a 95-mph fastball, got the next to ground out, gave up a walk and then fanned the last hitter with a 79-mph slider. It was his second save of the season.

“That’s the best I’ve seen him as far as repeating his delivery,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He had better body control tonight. He has three plus pitches and we want to get him some quality innings.”

The four pitchers gave up eight hits and walked six batters but pitched well with men on base, stranding 11 Power runners. None of the walks came around to score.

Left fielder Zach Sullivan made the defensive play of the night for the Hoppers, nailing a runner at home in the fourth inning with a low, one-hop throw to catcher Arturo Rodriguez.

The Hoppers got 10 hits, including three by Woods for the second straight night. He’s 9-for-15 in the four games since he came off the disabled list. He said his wrist, which he jammed sliding into a base in a game at Lakewood, now feels fine.

Two of his hits, a single and double, went to left field, a good sign for the left-handed hitter.

“I would love to get something up and in,” Woods said, “but they keep pitching me away so I’ll keep taking them to left field.”

Jose Adames will start Saturday night’s game for Greensboro.

Hoppers lose but welcome Steckenrider back

April 30, 2015

It had been a long time since Drew Steckenrider pitched in a game that counted.

In 2013 the Hoppers’ right-hander injured his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. He rehabbed all of 2014 and began this season on the disabled list. He was activated for Friday’s game against Hickory and made his presence felt in a contest that lasted 12 innings and was won by the Crawdads 5-3 on a two-run homer by Tripp Martin.

Steckenrider made his first appearance in nearly two years, starting the top of the sixth in relief of starter Ben Holmes and pitching into the 10th, getting two outs before being replaced by Josh Hodges. He pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, gave up four hits, walked one and struck out four.

“He pounded the bottom of the zone with his fastball and went right after hitters,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. He battled his butt off and it was good to see. He’s worked hard to come back. He saved our bullpen tonight.”

Steckenrider, who will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being, said he was a little nervous entering the game but settled down after a couple of pitches.

“It was exciting to pitch in something that mattered, in a real game,” he said. “It was close and I just wanted to give us a chance. It’s good to be healthy again. There’s no pain or tightness and I’m excited about the rest of the year.”

Down 3-0 early, the Hoppers came back with runs in the fourth, sixth and ninth innings to tie it. They had their best hitter, Arturo Rodriguez, at the plate with runner on first in the bottom of the 12th, but he popped out to end the game.

The Hoppers caught a bad break in the sixth after Rony Cabrera reached first on a third-strike wild pitch and K.J. Woods singled. With two outs, Brian Schales laced a drive to left-center that bounced off the warning track and over the fence for a ground rule double. Cabrera scored but, by rule, Woods could only advance to third base. Casey Soltis grounded out to end the inning.

“That killed us,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Woods was rolling and with two outs and a ball in the gap, that was an easy call to send him home and I’m sure he would have scored. But we had to bring him back to third. Those things happen.”

In the ninth, Justin Twine was called out on a close play at first base to begin the inning. Randel sprinted out of the dugout to confront base umpire Reid Joyner and was quickly ejected, bouncing his helmet off the ground for emphasis.

“That was brutal,” Randel said. “I’m not one to get thrown out, but that seemed like the appropriate time, in the ninth and our leadoff hitter should be on. I hope (Reid) didn’t take it personally.”

Soltis doubled and scored on a single by Rodrigo Vigil to tie the game.

In the 11th inning Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale was also ejected. Ragsdale first bounced his helmet — probably a little higher than Randel — and then sprinted out to protest an out call at third base by Joyner, who summarily ejected him.

The Crawdads won two of the three games in the series to improve to 15-5 overall. The Hoppers fell to 9-11 and open a four-game series with another good team, West Virginia (13-7) Friday night at NewBridge Bank Park. Michael Mader is the scheduled starter.

NOTES Hickory outfielder Luke Tendler, who played at North Carolina A&T, had a single, double and triple and scored three runs … Hoppers pitchers handled the top of the Hickory order, with the first four hitters going 2-for-23, but the five through nine hitters went 11-for-26 … Hoppers left fielder John Norwood made an outstanding catch in the fifth inning, sprinting to his right and laying out to backhand a line drive by the Crawdads’ Michael De Leon … Woods had three hits and drove in his first run of the season … Second baseman Mason Davis, who injured his right hand in Tuesday’s game, was put on the disabled list and replaced by Cabrera, activated off the Batavia roster … Reliever Jacob Smigelski was put on the Batavia roster to make room for Steckenrider.

Rodriguez has big game but Hoppers lose 7-5

April 29, 2015

Sometimes a great game by one player isn’t enough to carry a team.

That’s what happened to the Hoppers Wednesday. Arturo Rodriguez had three hits, including two homers, and drove in three runs but Hickory overcame that to post a 7-5 win over Greensboro.

It was the second of two schoolkids’ days this season, and NewBridge Bank Park was jammed with 7,792 mostly high-decibel voices. They enjoyed themselves immensely, even if it was disappointing for the Hoppers.

Rodriguez hit a sacrifice fly to center in the first inning, a solo home run to right-center in the fourth, a double in the gap to left-center in the sixth and a solo home run to left-center in the eighth. He’s now hitting .441, tops in the SAL, with three homers and 13 RBIs.

“He’s an absolute pro,” said manager Kevin Randel. “He has a great approach and never tries to do too much. Hopefully the other guys are watching him.”

Rodriguez is 23 and played three full seasons in the Mexican League before being signed by the Marlins over the winter. He has certainly mastered South Atlantic League pitching.

“He’s seeing the ball good, making adjustments and using the whole field,” said hitting coach Luis Quinones. “And he’s been doing that since Day One. The Mexican League is like Triple-A, with some good pitchers. He has more experience than the majority of our hitters.”

The Hoppers got 12 hits, with catcher Rodrigo Vigil going 3-for-4 with an RBI. The most encouraging game was probably by shortstop Justin Twine. The Marlins’ No. 2 pick last summer, Twine spent two weeks on the disabled list and carried a batting average of .065 into Tuesday’s game. Quinones said he’s “just getting his timing back.”

After a well-hit flyout to right field his first time up, Twine smoked a triple over Hickory’s center fielder his next trip and scored on a groundout by Brian Schales. He flied out his third trip, then doubled down the left field line in the ninth inning and scored on Vigil’s single.

“Just before he hit that triple, he told me ‘the hits are coming,'” Randel said.

The Hoppers’ pitching was forgettable, except for a three-inning stint by Kyle Fischer. Taking over for struggling starter Scott Squier to begin the fourth, Fischer shut down the Crawdads with three scoreless innings.

“He really picked us up and kept us in the game,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell.

The Hoppers sliced a 4-1 deficit to 4-3, but Jose Arias gave up two runs on a two-out single by Josh Morgan in the eighth and Luis Castillo surrendered another run in the ninth.

The teams close their three-game series at 7 p.m. today with Ben Holmes starting for the Hoppers.

“We’ll try to win the series and build on that,” Randel said.

NOTES: Second baseman Mason Davis missed the game after injuring his throwing hand in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game. He could miss another game or two … Hickory improved to 14-5, best record in the league, and starter Ariel Jurado moved to 4-0 … The Crawdads had 13 hits, four by Michael De Leon and three by Jose Cardona. Cardona and Tripp Martin hit home runs.

Defense, pitching carry Hoppers past Hickory

April 28, 2015

So far this season, there’s no place like “The Bridge.”

That would be NewBridge Bank Park, where the Hoppers beat the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 Tuesday night. The win improved their record to 6-1 at home, compared to 3-8 on the road.

“We show energy on the road,” said manager Kevin Randel, “but in a place like Delmarva, which is a graveyard and where it’s cold, if we get behind that’s it. Here, the guys think there’s always some mojo left in the tank. It’s a different feeling at home.”

The mojo that worked for the Hoppers in this game was clutch pitching, outstanding defense and just enough offense. Brian Schales had an RBI double in the third inning and Austen Smith hit his sixth homer, a two-run blast, in the sixth.

Meanwhile, starter Tyler Kolek and three relievers combined to strand 11 Crawdad runners. Hickory got 10 hits and drew two walks but its only run came on a solo homer by Travis Demeritte in the seventh inning.

Kolek picked up his second straight win. He pitched another five shutout innings, running his consecutive total to 10, but this was different than his last outing. He had only one inning when he retired the side in order and spent the rest of the time pitching out of the stretch.

But he was effective doing that, stranding two runners in the first, two more in the third, one in the fourth and two in the fifth.

“He battled with runners in scoring position several times,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He just continued to make pitches and it was an outstanding effort for him. It was a tight game and he stayed on a pretty even keel.”

There were numerous excellent defensive plays by the Hoppers. One of the biggest came in the third inning after Michael De Leon singled and moved to second with one out. Demeritte singled to right field and De Leon churned around third base. But an excellent throw to home by Ismael Soto changed the mind of Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale, who held up the “Stop!” sign and had DeLeon retreat to the bag. Kolek then got a strikeout and flyout to end the inning.

Shortstop Justin Twine made back-to-back fine plays in the second, sprinting into short left field to snag a popup and uncorking a bullet throw from the hole to get the next batter. Second baseman Mason Davis made a couple of hard-charging plays and third baseman Schales handled some hard grounders.

Davis and right fielder Soto collided on a pop fly that led off the top of the ninth inning. Davis went down, injuring his throwing hand, and Randel said he could miss a game or two.

The play went for a double and reliever Josh Hodges then gave up a walk. But the tall right-hander settled down and disposed of the next three hitters to record his second save.

NOTES: Jacob Smigelski pitched a scoreless inning and Sam Alvis gave up one run in two innings … K.J. Woods came off the disabled list and had two hits, including a double, and scored a run. … Even with the loss, Hickory has a league-best 13-5 record … The game was the Hoppers’ first against someone other than Delmarva and Lakewood … Scott Squier will start Wednesday’s game, which begins at 10:45 a.m. and is the second day for schoolkids.

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