Hoppers drop 3rd straight to end home stand

July 26, 2016

Tuesday’s game started in 91-degree weather and finished at 96 degrees.

Unfortunately for the Hoppers, they failed to heat up like the thermometer.

Augusta took a 3-1 win, giving it three straight victories in the four-game series. The Greenjackets, leading the Southern Division of the SAL, improved to 20-12 in the second half. The Hoppers dropped to 18-13 in the half and 56-45 overall. They finished 3-4 on the homestand, which began when they beat Greenville two out of three.

For the second straight game, the Hoppers’ only run came on a solo homer, this one by Zach Sullivan in the fifth inning. It was a long shot that cleared Natty’s Hill in left center field and was his third of the season.

“The home run got us on the board, but we need multiple at-bats strung together,” said manager Kevin Randel. “We’re the kind of team that needs big hit after big hit.”

And the Hoppers failed to come up with even one big hit, despite opportunities. In the third inning, after singles by Sullivan and Casey Soltis and a sacrifice by Gio Alfonzo, they stranded runners at second and third when Anfernee Seymour and Justin Twine struck out swinging.

In the sixth, against a tiring starter in Cory Taylor, Josh Naylor singled, Angel Reyes walked and Isael Soto singled to load the bases with one out. But Taylor regrouped to strike out Roy Morales and Sullivan to leave all three runners.

The Hoppers’ last opportunity came in the eighth. After reliever Ryan Halstead retired the first batter, the Jackets went with a pitching matchup, something unusual in a low Class A league. They brought in lefty Caleb Smith to face left-handed Naylor, who flied out for the second out. Right-handed hitter Reyes doubled, but he was left there when Smith retired the left-handed Soto on a fly ball.

As things turned out, Augusta’s two runs in the first inning were enough to win. Hoppers starter Ben Meyer issued a two-out walk, then surrendered a two-run homer to Matt Winn. It was the sixth homer of the series for the Jackets.

Augusta added an unearned run in the fifth inning.

After Meyer’s five innings, Parker Bugg and Marcus Crescentini each pitched two shutout innings.

“The walk was a small slip and home runs will happen here,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara.

The Hoppers committed three errors, giving them seven in the last two games.

“We’re in a rut offensively and defensively,” Randel said. “You go through that from time to time. We just have to wait it out.”

After an off day Wednesday, the Hoppers play five games in four days in Kannapolis. They begin with a doubleheader Thursday. Cody Poteet will start one game but who will get the spot start in the other game hasn’t been determined.

Hoppers drop second straight to Jackets

July 25, 2016

One hundred games down, 40 to go.

And Hoppers manager Kevin Randel hopes he doesn’t see many more like the one Monday night, when his club fell to Augusta 5-1.

It’s the dog days of baseball — temperatures in the 90s, high humidity and more games played than most of the roster has ever gone through.

But Randel was having none of that after a lethargic effort.

“Those are physical things,” he said. “For me, it’s mental. We played well for awhile, then stopped working and focusing. We were just going through the motions tonight, just going out there and expecting to win.”

It was a clunker in all phases. The offense managed only four hits, with three coming in one inning. The Hoppers didn’t get a hit after Anfernee Seymour’s single in the fifth. Gio Alfonzo accounted for the only run with a leadoff homer in the third inning.

Greenjackets starter Michael Connolly, who is 24 and has been in the Giants’ farm system since 2013, used just 91 pitches in his eight innings.

“He took advantage of young hitters who don’t know the strike zone,” Randel said.

Defensively, the Hoppers made four errors, two each by first baseman Josh Naylor and catcher John Silviano. Augusta also had a big night on the bases, stealing four in four attempts. As for the mental side, after Seymour singled he was picked off first base by catcher Matt Winn.

Greensboro’s pitching wasn’t bad. Justin Jacome threw five innings, giving up two runs and keeping the Hoppers in the game. Ryley MacEachern pitched two shutout innings and Jose Quijada had another. But Kyle Keller was tagged for three runs in the sixth inning and those put the game out of reach.

Keller, whose ERA was 1.23 after he pitched on July 4, has been hit hard in his last five outings. He has surrendered 10 runs (eight earned) in just 4 1/3 innings, driving his ERA to 3.76.

“It’s the ups and downs of a season,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “When things go bad, every hit finds a hole.”

Skyler Ewing homered for the Jackets, who have hit five homers (one of them highly disputed) in the three games of the series.

With the loss, the Hoppers fell to 18-12 in the second half and one-half game behind Hagerstown in the SAL Northern Division. Despite losing the last two games, the Hoppers can gain a series split by winning Tuesday’s game, which starts at 12:30 p.m. Ben Meyer will start for the Hoppers.

Augusta wins 4-3 to tie series with Hoppers

July 24, 2016

You would expect a series between two division leaders to be close, and so far it’s been that way between the Hoppers and Augusta.

The Greenjackets took a 4-3 decision Sunday at NewBridge Bank Park to square the series at 1-1. Greensboro won Saturday’s opener 6-5. The third game will be played Monday at 7 p.m. and the finale Tuesday at 12:30. That’s the last time the teams will face each other this season, unless they meet in the SAL’s championship series.

The Hoppers are 18-11 in the second half (56-43 overall), one-half game ahead of Hagerstown in the Northern Division. Augusta is 18-12 (54-46 overall) and has a 3 1/2-game lead in the Southern Division.

On the scoreboard, the difference was a disputed home run hit by Augusta’s Seth Harrison in the sixth inning. That moved the Jackets’ lead from 3-2 to 4-2.

In reality, the Hoppers had a lot to do with the outcome. The offense mustered nine hits — three by Isael Soto — but managed to get the leadoff hitter on base just twice. They were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

“The offense was terrible — at least eight of them were,” said manager Kevin Randel.

Soto was the exception. He finished with a homer, triple and double and drove in all three runs. Two of them came on his two-run homer in the fourth inning and the other on his triple in the eighth. He was stranded on second after his two-out double in the sixth.

There was a chance to do more damage in the eighth. Josh Naylor doubled and scored on Soto’s two-out triple. Roy Morales drew a walk and Augusta made a pitching change from left-hander Calbeb Smith to right-hander Ryan Koziol to face the right-handed Justin Twine. Kosiol got a strikeout to end the inning.

That turned out to be the Hoppers’ last gasp because Koziol retired the side in order in the ninth inning to earn the save.

From the pitching side, starter Steven Farnworth wasn’t at his best, giving up seven hits and three runs in five innings. Joel Effertz pitched two innings, giving up the disputed homer, and Jeff Kinley shut out the Jackets in the eighth and ninth innings.

“Farnworth had trouble getting the ball down in the zone and couldn’t get it where he wanted it,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “But if three runs in five innings is his worst outing, I’ll take that.”

The hitter who tormented Farnworth was Dillon Dobson, a native of Winston-Salem who played at Appalachian State. Dobson hit an RBI double in the first, a solo homer in the third and another RBI double in the fifth.

“(Farnworth) made some mistakes and (Dobson hit them),” Sagara said.

Now, about the disputed home run. Harrison hit a high fly toward the Grand Stand in left field that appeared to go well foul — to everyone except home plate umpire David Martinez, who circled his right hand to indicate a home run.

Several Hoppers infielders jumped up and down in disbelief. Randel, who ran out for a brief argument with Martinez, said he didn’t have the best angle from the dugout, “but it just didn’t look fair.”

There was no doubt in the mind of third baseman Aaron Blanton.

“I saw it curve toward the foul side,” Blanton said. “It was halfway over the (Grand Stand) roof, nowhere near the foul pole. That changed the mood of the game.”

Catcher Roy Morales agreed.

“It was very much outside the foul pole,” he said. “For me, that’s a bad call. If the ball was called fair, the game would still be tied right now.”

Instead, Harrison wound up with his fourth home run and the Jackets wound up with the win.

Silviano, Barrett, Brewster lead Hoppers

July 23, 2016

John Silviano doesn’t bother with singles.

In the short time he’s been with the Hoppers, he’s cranked out eight doubles, five home runs and just four singles. Putting it another way, 13 of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases. He collected two more doubles Saturday night, one of which drove in the go-ahead run, as the Hoppers beat Augusta 6-5 in the opener of a four-game series at NewBridge Bank Park.

The outcome moved the Hoppers to a 1 1/2 game lead over Hagerstown in the Northern Division of the South Atlantic League. Greensboro is now 18-10 in the second half and the Suns are 17-12. Augusta is 17-12 and leads the Southern Division by 2 1/2 games over Asheville and Rome.

“I know it’s a four-game series, but it’s a big win to take the first one and get on them early,” said Hoppers manager Kevin Randel.

The Hoppers cruised to a 3-0 lead through six innings, thanks to the superb pitching of L.J. Brewster, who allowed just two hits and no walks. But reliever Trent Hill surrendered a grand slam homer in the seventh to put Augusta on top 4-3.

Fortunately, the Hoppers had a quick answer in the bottom of the seventh. Anfernee Seymour was safe on an error, moved to second on a passed ball and to third on Kyle Barrett’s single. Josh Naylor’s single scored Seymour to tie the game and Silviano’s double scored Barrett to push the Hoppers ahead. Aaron Blanton’s sacrifice fly scored Naylor with an insurance run to make it 6-4.

That came in handy because closer C.J. Robinson was tagged for a solo homer in the ninth by Junior Arias, who had hit the grand slam earlier and wound up with all five Augusta RBIs. Robinson still earned his 19th save in 19 chances.

“I was focused on getting the go-ahead run in,” Silviano said of his key at-bat. “I was looking for a fastball and he gave me one.”

Silviano said he doesn’t go to the plate seeking extra-base hits.

“I’m trying to see the ball well and looking for a good pitch to drive,” he said. “Lately I’ve been seeing the ball really well.”

Randel likes what Silviano contributes as the catcher or designated hitter.

“He brings a good bat and has a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate,” Randel said. “He’s a little older (22) and gives us a veteran presence with our youngsters.”

Barrett continued swinging a hot bat with three hits, including a triple, and two RBIs. In his last five games, Barrett is 11-for-19 with six RBIs, pulling his average up to a team-best .303.

Brewster has pitched well since he moved into the rotation, but this was his best effort. In five of his six innings he retired the Greenjackets in order. His only bump came in the third inning, when he gave up a single and double to the first two batters. But he got the next two hitters on called third strikes and got the third out on a groundout to leave the runners stranded.

Augusta batters beat the ball into the ground all night. Brewster retired 14 hitters on groundouts and just one on a fly ball. He forced early contact and threw only 55 pitches in his six innings, retiring the Jackets on five pitches in his last inning of work.

“Since his conversion to a sinkerball pitcher he’s been steadily progressing and tonight he put it all together,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He took a great step forward.”

Silviano caught Brewster and said “I’ve never seen so many groundouts. He mixed his pitches well but that sinker was the key to his success. It breaks into a right-handed hitter and away from a left-hander. Either way, they swing over the ball and it goes into the ground.”

Unfortunately, Brewster didn’t get anything to show for it, other than the reports turned in by the Hoppers coaches. Hill, who allowed the grand slam that lost the lead, wound up as the winner when the Hoppers rallied to regain the lead in the seventh. Parker Bugg pitched a shutout eighth and Robinson closed out the win.

NOTES: The second game of the series is Sunday at 4 p.m. … Steven Farnworth will start for the Hoppers and Jake McCasland, who threw seven no-hit innings in his previous start, will pitch for Augusta … Isael Soto had two hits and an RBI for the Hoppers and Zach Sullivan scored twice.

Alfonzo, Crescentini help Hoppers to 4-3 win

July 22, 2016

When Casey Soltis of the Hoppers hit a home run on Wednesday night, teammate Gio Alfonzo knew what it meant.

“As soon as Soltis hit it, (Angel) Reyes and (Isael) Soto turned to me in the dugout and said, ‘you’re the last one,'” Alfonzo said.

What his teammates were reminding him, without any trace of subtlety, was that Alfonzo was the last position player on the roster without a homer.

“I told them I’d get one the next time I played,” Alfonzo said.

And he was true to his word. On his first at-bat of Friday’s game against Greenville, Alfonzo, hitting ninth, cracked a home run to left field for the first run of the game. He later added another hit and scored again to help the Hoppers beat the Drive 4-3.

Crescentini rebounded from a shaky outing on Wednesday and earned his first save by striking out the side in the top of the ninth inning.

After being swept in Greenville last week, the Hoppers took two of three from the Drive this time. Since Hagerstown lost to Columbia Friday, the Hoppers moved into first place in the SAL North Division. They stand 17-10, one-half game ahead of the Suns (17-11).

Alfonzo said he knew he had a home run in him because he hit a couple in spring training and ac couple more in extended spring. He also hit a few in college at Florida State and Tampa.

So how was he greeted by his teammates after circling the bases?

“I’m the one who started pulling guys’ shirts out and punching them (after homers),” Alfonzo said. “So I got beat up pretty good with guys punching me. But it didn’t hurt a bit.”

After the Drive had come back to tie the game 2-2, Alfonzo made another big play. He singled with one out in the fifth, moved up on Anfernee Seymour’s single and went to third when Kyle Barrett laid down a beautiful bunt to load the bases.

Josh Naylor lifted a high fly to short left center field that was caught by Luis Basabe. Manager Kevin Randel took a chance and sent Alfonzo home. Basabe’s throw was off-line and Alfonzo scored the go-ahead run. Reyes then singled in Seymour for a 4-2 lead.

“I tagged up and I was going to go unless he (Randel) said stop,” Alfonzo said. “I heard him say ‘go, go, go’ and I did.”

Randel said he saw that Basabe “wasn’t coming toward home plate and had to re-set his feet. You could see that on his throw. A good one would have gotten (Alfonzo) by a couple of steps.”

That run helped atone for an error Alfonzo made when he dropped a popup in the top of the fifth inning. It looked like first baseman Naylor’s ball all the way, but Alfonzo said he lost the ball and when he picked it again up he thought it was going to fall behind Naylor. When he tried to catch it, it went off his glove and the hitter wound up on second base. That led to an unearned run off starter Cody Poteet.

Poteet, the Hoppers’ hard-luck pitcher this season, pitched five innings and allowed five hits and two runs (one earned). He’s had a lot of games this year when he left the game with the score tied or the Hoppers in the lead, only to wind up with no decision. This time the bullpen made the lead stand up and Poteet earned his fourth win and lowered his ERA to 2.95.

“He did a good job of being business-like and limiting the damage,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara, “and that’s what a good starter will do.”

Three relievers combined to pitch the last four innings and combined for seven strikeouts. Ryley MacEachern threw the sixth and seventh innings and Kyle Keller gave up a homer in the eighth but escaped further damage. With closer C.J. Robinson unavailable, the Hoppers turned to Crescentini in the ninth.

On Wednesday, Crescentini gave up three walks and threw two wild pitches but managed to strand all three runners. He threw 29 pitches, only 11 for strikes. This time he got the first and third hitters to strike out swinging and the second batter to strike out looking.

“My mechanics were better tonight and I was going after hitters,” he said. “I love closing games.”

It’s something he had done in the L.A. Dodgers system after being drafted in the 25th round last year. The big right-hander (he’s 6-4, 240) recorded three saves with Ogden in 2015 and had four more with Great Lakes this season. But he posted ERAs of 7.43 in Ogden and 7.71 with Great Lakes and drew his release on June 11.

“I was struggling with my mechanics and mentally I was all over the place,” Crescentini said. “I thought about my future and what else I might do. The Marlins signed me four days later.”

He was sent to Batavia and pitched four innings in four games there, giving up three hits and a run, and was sent to the Hoppers. He was the winning pitcher in his first appearance, which came at Lakewood. In seven games with Greensboro he has a 1.54 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.

“Now I know what it’s like to have baseball taken away from me,” he said. “I have a chip on my shoulder.”

Sagara said Crescentini “has been reliable for us. He’s a very competitive kid and pitches like he’s closing all the time.”

The Hoppers begin a four-game series with August Saturday with L.J. Brewster starting the first game. It’s a rare matchup of division leaders. The Greenjackets lead the South Division with a 17-11 record.

Greenville limits Hoppers to two hits

July 21, 2016

It was one of those nights where the statistics didn’t matter.

Greenville left-hander Logan Boyd had taken some lumps this season — a 5.52 ERA and 121 hits surrendered in 88 innings coming into Thursday night’s game against the Hoppers. But he was in command from the beginning, pitching seven strong innings as the Drive beat Greensboro 2-0 at NewBridge Bank Park.

Boyd gave up just one hit and two walks while striking out eight. The Hoppers were never able to solve him and were retired in order four times.

“He lived on the corners and just off the plate,” said Hoppers manager Kevin Randel. “He expanded the (strike) zone and we chased pitches all night and couldn’t adjust.”

There were really only two threats by the Hoppers. With one out in the seventh inning, Angel Reyes walked and Josh Naylor was safe on an error. John Silviano ripped a line drive to right field that was caught with a high stretch by Kyri Washington for the second out. Naylor failed to watch the ball as he ran to second base and, after it was caught, was easily doubled off to end the inning.

“Four inches higher and it would have been over (the outfielder’s) head,” Randel said.

With one out in the ninth, Anferee Seymour was safe on a bunt, only the Hoppers’ second hit, and Kyle Barrett walked. That put the tying runs on base and brought the winning run to the plate, with the team’s top two RBI hitters coming up against reliever Jake Cosart. But Reyes struck out and Naylor fouled out to the catcher to end the game.

“We got some runners on base in the ninth and gave ourselves a fighting chance,” Randel said. “We needed more baserunners earlier in the game.”

One night after the staff gave up 11 walks in an 8-3 win, the Hoppers pitched much better. Starter Ben Meyer and relievers Joel Effertz and Jeff Kinley combined for just one walk. Meyer also hit a batter, which proved costly because it came with two outs and a runner on in the first inning. Washington then singled to drive in Greenville’s first run.

The other run came in the sixth off Effertz. With runners on first and third and no outs, the Hoppers turned a double play as a runner scored.

“We got back to doing what we do best, making good pitches and not trying to be too fine,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “All three of them challenged the strike zone.”

Effertz was making his first appearance in Greensboro since 2014. He pitched in seven games in relief with a 2.38 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings. He went to Double-A Jacksonville for one game, pitched two scoreless innings and hurt his elbow. That resulted in Tommy John surgery and Effertz missed all of 2015. He pitched in five games in the Gulf Coast League before joining the Hoppers and winning a game in relief on the road.

“That process (of rehabbing) will test your will,” Sagara said. “Physically, he’s back to norma and now it’s a matter of getting his work in and building him back up. It will take a little while, but he’s a hard worker.”

The rubber game of the series will be played Friday night with Cody Poteet starting for the Hoppers.

Hoppers survive 11 walks in 8-3 victory

July 20, 2016

After Wednesday night’s game at NewBridge Bank Park, the song that came over the PA system was Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.”

It wasn’t done on purpose, yet it could hardly have been more appropriate.

The Hoppers survived a game in which their pitchers walked 11 Greenville batters but still posted an 8-3 victory over the Drive.

“I’ve been coaching 17 or 18 years and I’ve never had a staff walk that many,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “It was an ugly win for the pitching staff. I’m glad it didn’t blow up on us.”

It’s fair to say that the pitchers labored through the game. Starter Justin Jacome walked five in four innings, Parker Bugg walked two in two innings, Marcus Crescentini walked three in one inning and C.J. Robinson walked one in two innings. In addition, Jacome was called for a balk and he and Crescentini each threw wild pitches. The pitchers had trouble adjusting to the strike zone of home plate umpire David Martinez.

“A small strike zone can get in guys’ heads,” Sagara said. “They start trying to squeeze the ball in. Sometimes there are good lessons in a game like this.”

The odd thing was, Greenville was never really in the game. The Hoppers’ pitchers helped themselves with 10 strikeouts and made good pitches in clutch situations. Greenville was just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded a dozen runners, leaving the bases loaded twice. The defense played error-free ball and turned two double plays. The Hoppers’ offense pounded out 11 hits in rolling up an 8-1 lead.

“Those double plays were huge,” said manager Kevin Randel. “Great feeds and great turns on both of them.”

One went from second baseman Justin Twine to shortstop Anfernee Seymour to first baseman Josh Naylor. The other went Seymour to Twine to Naylor.

“We need to sew up our starting pitching,” Randel said. “It’s killing our bullpen.”

Jacome used up his pitch count in four innings and Crescentini was only able to go one inning. That forced the Hoppers to bring in Robinson in a non-save situation in the eighth inning. He retired the side in order, but was tagged for three hits, including a two-run homer, in the ninth.

Fortunately for the Hoppers, the offense enjoyed a good game. Aaron Blanton had a three-run homer and a sacrifice fly to total four RBIs, Casey Soltis added a solo homer and Naylor, Kyle Barrett and Roy Morales also had RBI hits.

The homer for Solis was the first of his career. Drafted in the fifth round out of high school in 2014, he played 33 games that season in the Gulf Coast League but only 15 in 2015 with Greensboro before injuring his left (throwing) arm that required Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return from that until this June and has now played in 25 games.

“It felt good and it was a long time coming,” Soltis said of his homer. “It was an off-speed pitch that hung and I put a pretty good swing on it.”

It came off a left-hander, and Soltis had been just 3-for-23 against lefties this season.

“You can’t think about that,” he said. “You go up there with a clear mind. I’ve been feeling more and more confident against left-handers lately.”

As the fourth outfielder, Soltis’ playing time is irregular. That, plus a year away from the game, has made it difficult to regain his timing on pitches.

“I stay in the batting cage and work on my swing every day,” he said. “I have to be ready when they call on me and show I can help us win games.”

Ben Meyer will start Thursday’s game. He’s taking the rotation spot of nine-game winner Chuck Weaver, who is rehabbing an injury and could possibly be lost for the season.

NOTES: The win was the Hoppers’ third straight since stopping a six-game losing streak … Now 16-9 in the second half, they are half a game behind first-place Hagerstown in the North Division … Bugg, drafted in the 27th round this June out of LSU, picked up his first pro win … Naylor, coming off a 5-for-5 game at Kannapolis, doubled and singled his first two times up to stretch his streak to seven hits in seven at-bats. He was hit by a pitch, then made two outs.

Kannapolis hands Hoppers 10-2 drubbing

July 10, 2016

If it had been a football or basketball game, the videotape would have been burned.

That’s the kind of day it was for the Hoppers Sunday afternoon when they took a 10-2 pounding at the hands of Kannapolis at NewBridge Bank Park.

Taken as a whole, the seven-game homestand was successful, with the Hoppers going 5-2. It’s just that it ended badly, with a one-hit shutout loss Saturday and a drubbing Sunday.

The team will have a day off Monday, then hit the road for three games in Greenville and four at Kannapolis.

Greensboro still leads the SAL North Division with a 13-5 record in the second half, two games ahead of the Intimidators. That will put an interesting spin on the series at Kannapolis, with the Intimdators likely having gained a lot of confidence from the past two games.

“The day off will be good after one of those,” manager Kevin Randel said, referring to Sunday. “We’re limping into it.”

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the performance of the Hoppers’ top pitcher, Chuck Weaver, who had won seven straight starts and pitched six innings in six straight games. This time he didn’t make it out of the fourth, uncharacteristically giving up eight runs (seven earned) on 12 hits. The loss dropped his record to 9-5.

“He doesn’t have many games like that,” said pitching coach Brendan Sagara. “He left the ball up in the zone and paid for it. Today we made mistakes and they hit them.”

Weaver gave up two runs in the second and another in the third — that one off a titanic home run from ex-Hopper K.J. Woods, whose blast cleared the scoreboard and was given a computer estimate of 438 feet. That topped the scoreboard-clearing homer by Greensboro’s John Silviano on Saturday, estimated at 417 feet.

In the fourth inning, after giving up a leadoff single, Weaver struck out the next two batters and seemed poised to get out of it. Then the roof fell in. He surrendered two singles, a walk and then a bases-clearing double by Seby Zuvala that took the score from 4-0 to 7-0 and essentially settled the issue.

The Hoppers’ offense never really got going, scoring cosmetic single runs in the fourth and ninth innings. The biggest threat came in the bottom of the second, when they loaded the bases on a walk, a single and a fielder’s choice with one out but left everyone stranded.

“We had a chance to answer back there,” Randel said. “We did some things that were real sloppy and we need to address those issues and keep moving forward.”

A misplayed ball in the outfield that gave a runner an extra base, failure to properly back up another play and missing a cutoff throw — those were the kinds of things that bothered Randel and need to be cleaned up.

NOTES: Justin Twine got one RBI on a groundout and Anfernee Seymour singled in the other … Angel Reyes, Roy Morales and Aaron Blanton each had two hits … Kannapolis had 16 hits, three each by Johan Cruz and Thomasville native Landon Lassiter … Every Intimidator got a hit and eight of the nine score a run … L.J. Brewster will pitch the first game for the Hoppers in Greenville, followed by Steven Farnworth and Justin Jacome.

Hoppers’ streak stops at nine

July 9, 2016

Kevin Randel had a simple message for his team after the Hoppers’ nine-game winning streak was stopped Saturday night.

“I didn’t tell them ‘let’s start a new streak,'” Randel said. “It was ‘just don’t let this carry over. We still have a series to win.'”

The Hoppers have won two of the three games from Kannapolis and the series will conclude with Sunday’s game at 4 p.m.

The evening started well when Friday’s suspended game was resumed. The Hoppers scored five add-on runs to go with the two they got Friday on Kyle Barrett’s home run just before the storm hit in the bottom of the third inning. That game was played out to the full nine innings Saturday with the Hoppers prevailing 7-4.

In winning their ninth straight, the Hoppers tied the second-longest streak in their history. The 2014 team set the record with 10 in a row. Three other teams won nine straight. It was also this team’s 51st victory, tying the victory total for the 2015 club for the whole season.

The second game, which lasted seven innings, was a different story. Behind strong pitching that limited the Hoppers to one hit, Kannapolis won it 1-0. The outcome left the Hoppers with a 13-4 record in the second half, three games ahead of second-place Kannapolis in the SAL North.

There were some opportunities for Greensboro. In the bottom of the first, Aaron Blanton drew a one-out walk but was picked off first. Angel Reyes followed with a single, which turned out to be the Hoppers’ only hit, but John Silviano struck out to end the inning.

Luis Martinez, the Intimidators’ 6-foot-6 right-hander, kept the Hoppers at bay, spotting his fastball and throwing his secondary pitches for strikes. In the fifth inning, Roy Morales was safe at first on a wild-pitch third strike. He moved to second on another wild pitch and went to third on a groundout but was stranded when Zach Sullivan popped out.

In the sixth, against 6-9, 290-pound reliever Taylore Cherry, Barrett was hit by a pitch and moved around to third with one out. Blanton, the team’s hottest hitter, struck out and Reyes grounded out to end the threat. Cherry, who pitched two years at UNC, retired the Hoppers in order in the seventh for his sixth save.

“We couldn’t get the big hit, which we’ve been doing lately,” Randel said. “(Cody) Poteet gave us a chance to win, but it didn’t happen. It wasn’t a good day for us on offense.”

Poteet gave the Hopper six innings, allowing four hits while striking out six. His one mistake came in the fifth inning. Cody Daily singled and, with one out, moved to second when Poteet was called for a balk by plate umpire Tom West. Bradley Strong followed with a single up the middle to score the game’s only run.

“They (the umpires) said I didn’t come set and they decided to call a balk,” Poteet said. “I felt good about how I competed. Mistakes happen, and this wasn’t a game to feel bad about. It never feels good to lose, but this brings us back to earth a little bit. We can start another streak tomorrow.”

In the first game, the Hoppers pounded out 12 hits. After the resumption, the Hoppers added two-run homers by Isael Soto and John Silviano and an RBI double by Anfernee Seymour. Silviano’s blast carried over the top of the scoreboard, one of the few times that’s ever happened in NewBridge Bank Park.

“It was kind of an emergency swing,” Silviano said. “The count was 0-and-2 and I was sitting on a changeup. I got a fastball and kept my hands inside.”

Ben Meyer picked up where Friday starter Justin Jacome left off. Meyer hurled four shutout innings and didn’t allow a hit while striking out five. His only blemishes were a walk and a hit batter as he earned his third win.

“Ben was throwing his fastball great with good command inside, which set up his other pitches,” said Silviano, his catcher.

Meyer has been coming out of the bullpen all season but he was a starter in college at Minnesota.

“I approached it like a bullpen outing,” Meyer said. “I wanted to give us three or four good innings. I hadn’t pitched in four days, so my arm felt good. I felt confident and I commanded my fastball well inside. That kept them off-balance.”

The game tightened up in the eighth inning when Kannapolis scored four runs off Kyle Keller to cut the deficit to three. That meant C.J. Robinson was called on to pitch the ninth and he was able to record his 17th save thanks to the defense.

After giving up a single to Max Dutto, Robinson induced Grant Massey to hit got a ground ball to the right side.  Second baseman Justin Twine moved to his left to grab the ball and got off a quick throw to shortstop Seymour for the first out. Seymour’s throw to Reyes at first nipped Massey to complete a double play.

Landon Lassiter then singled to left and tried to stretch it into a double. But Barrett got to the ball quickly and uncorked a perfect throw to Twine, who dropped the tag on Lassiter to end the game.

Rain puts Hoppers’ streak on hold

July 9, 2016

The Hoppers will have to wait until tonight to try to extend their winning streak to nine games — or even 10.

Friday’s game against Kannapolis was suspended by a rip-snorter of a storm that began with massive bolts of lightning followed by a deluge that left whitewater rivers running through the bullpen past the dugouts.

Play will resume Saturday at 5 p.m., with the suspended game played to the full nine innings. It will be followed by a 7-inning game.

When play starts, it will be the bottom of the third inning with no outs and the Hoppers on top 2-0. That lead came courtesy of a two-run homer by Kyle Barrett a few seconds before umpires waved the players off the field.

It was Barrett’s second homer in as many nights — in fact, his second in as many at-bats. His first homer of the season, and his career, came Thursday in the eighth inning and gave the Hoppers a 3-2 lead in a game they went on to win 5-2. Friday’s homer was hit almost to the same spot over the right-field fence, a couple of feet to the left. It came after Casey Soltis doubled.

“In early work today, our hitting coach (Rigoberto Silverio) to trust my swing,” Barrett said. “I was looking for an outside pitch and just reacted to it. I’ve never hit consecutive home runs in my life. It’s an awesome feeling, but that’s not the kind of hitter I am.”

Justin Jacome threw three shutout innings before the rain and Ben Meyer will head to the mound when the game resumes. Cody Poteet will start the second game.

The Hoppers have won eight straight for the second time this season, tied for their third-longest streak ever Three teams have won nine in a row and the record is 10 straight set in 2014.

The team will be without first baseman Josh Naylor, who heads out to San Diego for the Futures Game on Sunday, and will miss two games. Manager Kevin Randel said utility man Gio Alfonzo will likely replace Naylor in the lineup.

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