The West Virginia Power led from the start and went on to defeat the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 in the start of a three-game series at L.P. Frans Stadium. The win snapped the Crawdads (26-10) five-game winning streak and allowed the Power (21-16) to move to within 5 ½ games of Hickory in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.
The night started ominously as an error by Crawdads starter Nick Gardewine (2-3) on a dropped throw at first allowed Tucker Cole to reach. Cole stole second – one of his three steals in the game – and later scored on Taylor Gushue’s blooper to left.
Three straight hits led to West Virginia’s second run in the fifth. Elvis Escobar double to start the inning. After Tyler Filliben signaled him to third, Tucker (2-for-4) slapped a Gardewine change to center for the run.
John Sever (2-1) held the Crawdads hitless (two walks) until the sixth when slashed an 0-2 curve up the middle for the single. Sever’s errant pickoff allowed Morgan to go to third, from where he scored on Michael De Leon’s bloop single just in front of the dive of centerfielder Tito Polo.
Montana DuRapau replaced Sever and retired the final two hitters in the sixth on the way to a perfect 2 2/3 innings with three strikeouts.
Yunior Lopez retired the final three hitters of the game in the ninth for his second save.
Pablo Reyes cracked his fifth homer of the season in the eighth against Kelvin Vasquez to set the final margin.
**Catcher Marcus Greene needed all 5-11 of him to snare a throw from left fielder Tripp Martin and then slap a tag on Tucker Cole at the plate to save a run in the third.
**On a sharp grounder by Tyler Filliben that deflected off reliever Scott Williams, Travis Demeritte corralled the ball behind the bag and made a strong jump throw to first to get the final out in the ninth.
** Michael DeLeon covering the back on a steal attempt in the eighth, doubled back quickly to his right to pick a grounder by Tito Polo and get the out.
**Nick Gardewine battled after a tough start to the fifth. With runners at second and third and none out, Gardewine pulled out the changeup to get Reyes to pop to third and then struck out Connor Joe swinging. Gushue then appeared to be sitting on a change on a 0-2 count and was well late on a 95 mph heater on the outside corner.
**Gardewine stayed ahead of hitters much of the night, posting first-pitch strikes on 18 of 22 hitters.
**Kevin Vasquez 9 of 11 hitters, mostly on a 95-98 mph fastball. Scott Williams put up a 1-2-3 ninth on a sinking 93-94 mph. Escobar’s 4-3 grounder sounded like he hit a stone to second.
**Gardewine’s drop of a throw from Demeritte in the first seemed to set an ominous tone for the game.
**Gardewine had trouble finishing off hitters. Four of the Power’s seven hits came with Gardewine ahead in the count, including Gushue’s RBI single on an 0-2 pitch in the first.
**Hickory managed only four base runners, but hit into some rotten luck early. Rock Shoulders drilled a poorly spotted fastball to deep center in the second. Michael De Leon had arguably the hardest hit ball by a Crawdads hitter all night when he lined hard to third to end the third. Tripp Martin was thrown out by Filliben on a long throw from deep in the corner at third that was picked out by 1B Connor Joe. The Crawdads body language seemed to drag the final three innings.
**West Virginia stole four bases, all of which had big leads on Gardewine.
**It’s curious to me that as hard as Vasquez throws that he misses so few bats lately. Of the last 22 hitters he’s faced, he’s had one swing-and-miss (WV’s Chase Simpson in the sixth). Reyes turned around a 95 mph heater to left.
(Blogger’s Note: unfortunately, I will miss the final two games of the Power/ Crawdads series… work calls!)