In a rain-delayed game that started on Thursday, the Rome (Ga.) Braves defeated the Hickory Crawdads 7-3 in front of a season high 4,423 fans at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Braves (23-24) surpassed the Crawdads as the hottest team in the South Atlantic League with their sixth straight win and are now 4 ½ games behind first place Greenville in the Southern Division. The Drive lost on the road at Lexington.
Hickory (32-15) saw its lead in drop to 4 ½ in the Northern Division, as West Virginia defeated Delmarva on the road. The Crawdads and Braves are scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 4:30.
The game started Thursday night with Austin Pettibone taking the hill for Hickory. Omar Obregon (2-for-5) singled to left and stole second before Jordan Edgerton walked. One out later, the rains came and washed out play the rest of the evening.
When play resumed on Friday, Collin Wiles (5-2) took over on the mound and gave up an RBI single to the first hitter Matt Tellor.
The Crawdads evened the score at 1-1 against Caleb Beech (5-2) in the fourth on three hits and an RBI groundout by Eduard Pinto. They then took the lead in the fifth on Josh Morgan’s RBI single.
But the Braves evened the score in the sixth on Braxton Davidson’s run-scoring single, and then went on to score in four consecutive innings for the win. Ozhaino Albies chased Wiles with a two-run, go-ahead triple in the seventh. Back-to-back doubles by Tanner Murphy and Connor Oliver added a run in the eighth.
Two errors and a hit batter led to a run for Hickory in the eighth and brought the go-ahead run to the plate in Marcus Greene. He lifted a deep fly to left that the wind knocked down at the wall.
Obregon tripled and scored on Edgerston’s single to provide the final margin in the ninth.
**Collin Wiles actually cruised much of the game for Hickory. He used his usual three-pitch (fastball, change, curve) mix effectively to keep the Braves hitters off balance. Wiles pounded the strike zone much of the night (70 pitches, 50 strikes) His curveball was responsible for all three of his strikeouts, including two in the fourth (one swinging, one looking). For the most part, his fastball stayed down, though as the game wore on the pitch drifted off the plate on his glove side. The last pitch (88 mph) was middle-in and was spanked by Albies for the decisive triple.
**Rock Shoulders with a heads-up play ran hard on a strikeout/ wild pitch in the seventh and was able to get to second when the catcher Tanner Murphy couldn’t find the ball at the backstop. He also appeared to “take one for the team” on an 0-2 curveball by reliever Oriel Caicedo to load the bases in the eighth. In the field, Shoulders also made a nice play on a hard hit grounder to turn a 3-6-3 DP.
**Marcus Greene and Michael De Leon teamed up for a nice caught stealing in the sixth. Greene corralled a 2-2 curveball from Wiles, then sent a throw to De Leon, who scooped what appeared to be a short hop at the bag and dropped the tag on Davidson.
**The Crawdads are phenomenal in the infield, unless you bunt against them. Simply, they do not defend the bunt well, at all. Tonight, with a runner on first in the decisive seventh, Erison Mendez sent what appeared to a generic sacrifice bunt to the right of the mound. Both Shoulders from first and Wiles charged the ball on the play, but Demeritte was slow to get to the bag at first, so no play could be made.
**A baserunning blunder thwarted a chance for a big inning for the Crawdads in the fourth. After De Leon and Luke Tendler singled, Jose Trevino sent a soft liner to shallow left field. Crawdads manager Corey Ragsdale coaching at third immediately threw up a stop sign for De Leon, but Tendler rounded the bag too far at second. With Tendler caught in a run down, it forced De Leon to make a break for the plate and he was thrown out. Pinto’s 4-3 grounder scored Tendler, but that was as far as the inning went.
**Hickory hit into a little bad luck at times in the game. Normally a heavy groundball pitcher, Beech had problems spotting his fastball early with the Crawdads hitting several fly balls in the second and third that were run down. However, Beech found a groove with his slider in the middle innings and fanned six with it from the fourth through seventh. Jose Cardona did get a fastball up in the seventh, but his liner was snagged on a leaping catch by Albies at short.
**Had Greene’s at bat occurred a couple minutes earlier in the eighth, his fly ball to deep LF likely leaves the yard for a go-ahead grand slam. But a nearby thunderstorm passing just to the east of the ballpark shifted the wind in from left and knocked the ball down near the wall.
** This particular umpiring crew of Alex Trujllo and Kyle Wallace has what seems to be an unhealthy machismo to play through heavy rain. Back in a game in April, they allowed play during an extended downpour before calling for the tarp—which the crew could not get onto the field in the mucked-over infield dirt. It happened again on Thursday, but with all the rain that fell, it made no difference as to the speed of which the tarp got onto the field.