Division II school Lenoir-Rhyne continued a ten-year unbeaten streak in Hickory exhibition games at L.P. Frans Stadium by defeating the Hickory Crawdads 7-5 Monday night.
The Bears, which defeated Hickory 4-3 in last year’s game and tied the 2007 contest, were the aggressors from the start and never trailed in the contest. (The series was not played from 2008 through 2014.)
Colby Dishmond cracked a solo blast in the ninth to break a 4-4 tie. The Bears added a run in the inning after a Dylan Moore error at first and Tripp Hamrick’s grounder accounted for the final run.
“(Dishmond) knocked the fire out of that ball,” said Crawdads manager Steve Mintz of the go-ahead homer.
LRU, which is 26-12 during its South Atlantic Conference season, scored two in the first on a bloop single by Will Thompson. Hickory cut the deficit in half as Andy Ibanez and Yeyson Yrizarri hit back-to-back doubles.
The Bears made it 4-1 in the second. Hamrick scored from second after left fielder LaDarious Clark dropped a slicing liner in left off the bat of Justin Lara. Lara then scored on Chase Hathcock’s single.
Clark earned one of the runs back in the fourth when he tripled in Yrizarri. The Crawdads then tied it in the fifth after Ibanez tripled in Chuck Moorman and Eric Jenkins.
“Our guys played well and gave us a chance to win,” said LRU head coach Tom Fleenor. “I’m proud of our team and hopefully it’s something we can use as a springboard for us for our season.”
Hickory put up ten hits, but six of those came from Ibanez and Yrizarri, both of which sprayed the field with their base-knocks. Ibanez doubled down the line in left in the first, tripled to the wall in right in the fifth, then returned to double down the line in left in the eighth. “That’s what we expect him to do, hit the ball and drive in runs” said Mintz.
Yrizarri’s three hits went to left, center and right.
Arguably the best at-bat of the night came by Eric Jenkins in the fifth. After swinging through a breaking ball for strike two in the fifth, Jenkins laid off the same pitch two other times and worked a walk. My impression of Jenkins from last year’s cameo appearance at Hickory was that the game could be a bit fast for him at first. However, he’s a quick learner and doesn’t get fooled by the same thing more than once or twice. He does make adjustments on the fly, something that should serve him well as he sees breaking balls away from South Atlantic League pitchers.
Frandy De La Rosa went 0-for-4, but had two hits taken away. He lined hard to shortstop Matthew De La Rosa in the first to strand Yrizarri at third, then lined hard to left in the fourth, but Marcus Shoemaker made a sprawling catch of the liner off the grass.
Peter Fairbanks threw what appeared to be a slider with some bite as it whipped away from the right-handed hitters. However, he had trouble commanding the fastball and the Bears hitters took advantage.
Dillon Tate fanned two in the fourth, but hit a batter and walked one. His strikeout of Dishmond came on a changeup that pasted the inside corner for a called-third strike.
Pedro Payano gave up two hits, but got a double play to work out of the inning.
Jonathan Hernandez needed 22 pitches to get through the sixth, throwing just 10 strikes, as he worked out of a bases-loaded jam.
For my eyes, Erik Swanson had the best stuff of the night, as he ran a live fast ball up in the zone that the Bears hitters had problems catching up to. “It looked hard, didn’t it,” said Mintz. “He was out of the zone a lot, but they kept chasing it, so he kept throwing it up there. They kept trying to hit it, but they couldn’t.”
Lefty Wes Benjamin worked around a single for a scoreless eighth inning.
Johan Juan left a fastball up that Dishmond connected for the go-ahead homer.
“To be honest, I just kind of saw a fastball, not necessarily left over the plate, but it was something I could handle,” said Dishmond. “I didn’t really think it was going out, but I thought it was a double, at least. Then I looked up and saw the umpire throwing his hand around.”
After the Bears put two on with no outs, third baseman Ti’Quan Forbes began to charge in from third as the Crawdads put on the wheel play to defend an expected sacrifice. Ryan Perkins pulled the back and hit a hot smash that Forbes speared and turned into a 5-4-3 double play.
LaDarious Clark dropped a slicing liner along the line in LF by Tripp Hamrick after a long run. It was ruled an error which scored a run and led to the second of the inning. Dylan Moore’s error in the ninth was a routine grounder to first that short-hopped his glove.
LRU had four steals over the first four innings against catcher Chuck Moorman. Three of the throws were off line and to the right of second. He appeared to catch Hamrick on a throw to second in the second, but was called safe.
The Crawdads plan to push the envelope with their speed in 2016, but will need to be mindful of running into outs in close games. Ibanez doubled and was picked off in the eighth. Yrizarri followed the pickoff with a single, but he, too, was picked off. “That eighth inning killed us getting picked off second and getting picked off first,” said manager Steve Mintz. “Those are things we can’t do. We’re forcing these guys to be aggressive on the bases and different things like that, but on situations like that, we gave away two baserunners with a chance to win the game.”
“The pick plays kind of surprised them a little bit,” said LRU manager Tom Fleenor. “I know they don’t do a ton of that, as far as practicing baserunning. They might practice doing it, but they probably don’t practice it a lot doing the bases. They would be to our advantage.”
On a grounder to third in the first inning, Yrizarri made it from second to third after third baseman Hamrick failed to check the runner.
Eduard Pinto held up at first on a bloop single to short right by Forbes and should have been thrown out easily at third, but Hamrick dropped the throw in from right.
Mintz: “All in all, I was happy with it. We’d love to win the game, but with what we’re doing and where we’re at preparing for the season, it was a pretty good deal for us.”
LRU coach Tom Fleenor: “It’s just fun to get out here. I appreciate the Crawdads for letting us do this with them. It’s a great event and hope it’s something we can do. I know we’re not going to win every year and we may not win again for 20 years, but it’s fun coming out here and rubbing elbows with these guys that get paid to play the game. It’s honor to be on the same field with them.”
Dishmond: “Coming out here and playing in a great ballpark like this, it’s not every day you get to play against pro guys. It’s a really good experience for all of us.”