The Hickory Crawdads opened up a close game up and battered the Savannah Sand Gnats 8-1. With the win, coupled with a doubleheader sweep, the Crawdads are now 5 ½ games ahead of the Power in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division with seven games to play. Hickory (40-22) would clinch the first-half title on Monday with a win over Savannah and a loss by West Virginia to Augusta.
Savannah (34-29) remained tied with Greenville for first place in the Southern Division chase, both 3 ½ games ahead of Augusta. The Drive hosts Rome Monday night.
The teams battled through five shutout innings on a hot Sunday afternoon. Yohander Mendez threw the first three innings for Hickory (2 H, 4 K) before giving way to Ariel Jurado in the fourth. Ricky Knapp matched the Crawdads with five shutout innings (3 H, 4 K) of his own and then turned the game over to reliever Darwin Frias.
Josh Morgan led off the inning with a walk and scored one out later on Jose Trevino’s team-high ninth homer of the season for a 2-0 lead.
The Sand Gnats answered with a two-out rally in the seventh against Jurado. Vicente Lupo and Joe Tuschak each singled before Adrian Abreu followed with a run-scoring hit to score Lupo. Jurado then got Patrick Biondi to ground out to second for the third out.
The Crawdads loaded the bases to start the seventh. After Michael De Leon struck out, it appeared the inning would end on a double play ball by Morgan. However, Carlos Arroyo’s slide into second forced the throw of Jonathan Johnson’s to first to bounce wide and bring in two runs.
Hickory batted around in the eighth and broke open the game in the eighth. Jairo Beras singled in a run, Arroyo punched in two with a bloop double before De Leon’s RBI single finished the rally.
Jurado lasted five innings for the win (9-0) with just the one run allowed on four hits to go with five strikeouts.
Carlos Arroyo: His slide in the second led to two runs, but one could argue it led to six total. The play had a noticeable effect on the team, which had a bit more fire after the play.
Jose Trevino: With three homers and 10 RBI and a take-charge attitude behind the plate, he’s put the team on his back during the homestand.
Yohander Mendez: Fastball (89-92) command was spotty at first, but his curveball was more than enough to baffle the Sand Gnat hitters. Had three swing-and-misses for three of his strikeouts and set up a fourth, which was a 91 mph heater on the outside corner to the right-handed Lupo.
Ariel Jurado: Coming out of the bullpen seemed to have no effect on Jurado as he set the tone early. He began throwing a curveball for the first time during the outing and rang up a couple of Ks with it. Began to leave it up in the seventh – the final two hits were 1-2 curveballs – before going back to his sinker and getting out of the jam.
Josh Morgan: Reached base four of five times, but it was his two defensive plays at third late in the game that stuck out. Both plays involved making back-handed stops on short hops behind the bag before making long throws to first.
Jairo Beras: Two hits on the afternoon, one on a fastball, the other a pulled slider that found a hole.
David Perez: Threw the ninth for Hickory and struggled with fastball command (16 pitches, seven strikes).
Darwin Frias/ Jose Leger: For a team that seems more geared to try and win games than to play development baseball (they all try to win, I suppose, but some focus more to the development side) the use of Frias was odd. After a shaky sixth, Frias was left on the mound by the manager Leger for two more innings and had nothing. Breaking pitches were up, sliders had little bite and fastballs were B.P. quality. For a team shooting to make a playoff spot (they made a mid-inning pitching change in the 15th inning here in May), it was an odd choice.
Ricky Knapp: Showed a good three-pitch mix that kept Crawdads off balance during much of his five innings. Struck out Trevino on three straight sliders in the first, each one further off the plate.