(I apologize ahead if I miss anything grammatical, as I am in a hurry. :-))
The Hickory Crawdads won the opening South Atlantic League game with a 5-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators at Intimidators Stadium Thursday night.
The win was the first managerial win for new skipper Steve Mintz in his first game.
Said Mintz of the win, “That was fun to finally get out here and play a game that really counted and see these guys do the work after all the stuff that they’ve done in spring training to prepare for it.”
After Kannapolis scored an unearned run in the first, Hickory took the lead in the third via a two-run triple by Andy Ibanez, after Eric Jenkins reached safely on an error with two outs in the inning. Ibanez added a fielder’s choice RBI in the fifth before Yeyson Yrizarri tacked on an RBI single.
Hickory’s final run came in the seventh as Chuck Moorman doubled and scored on an Ibanez single.
The Crawdads put up ten hits on offense while the pitching staff combined to shutout Kannapolis over the final eight innings with 13 strikeouts.
Andy Ibanez had four hits and four RBI on the night, as he looked the part of schoolroom bully against Kannapolis pitching. After reaching on an infield hit in the first, Ibanez smoked a fastball from Luis Martinez that one-hopped the wall to the right of straight-away center. He went on to single up the middle and line a fourth hit to left.
“He got some good pitches to hit and didn’t miss them. He had a couple of big hits there to give us some runs.
Jose Almonte showed good bat control by slapping an away fastball hard to the hole at second for an infield hit.
Eric Jenkins showed the wheels with a bunt single in the fifth. His speed likely rushed Intimidators 2B Daniel Mendick into an error that wound up leading to a two-run inning that gave Hickory the lead for good.
After giving up an unearned run on a freaky play in the first, Brett Martin appeared to pitch a bit angry and K’d the side -2 on fastballs, 1 on a change. From there, Martin had complete control as he allowed four hits, two walks and struck out eight. He introduced more offspeed offerings the second time through the order. Against Zach Fish in the third, Martin got strike one and two on curveballs, then completed the K by getting Fish to swing through a CH. He finished the game with 8 Ks in 4 innings, getting 50 strikes (19 missed bats) out of 73 pitches.
Mintz said that Martin’s experience was the key to keeping things under control after the crazy play in the first. “You grow up each year and you learn more and he showcased that tonight, being able to keep his cool. When he got in trouble there, he went to his offspeed, like he’s supposed to, and slowed the game down properly. It was nice to see.”
Tyler Davis showed a good slider as he threw three scoreless innings. He was especially tough in the sixth after allowing a walk and a double to the wall in left. He then struck out Silverio and Mendick swinging and finished off the inning on a 5-3 grounder.
“Davis pitched out of that second and third with nobody out and saved two big runs right there,” Mintz said. “All they (the Intimidators) needed were two ground balls and they could’ve picked up two easy runs, but he didn’t let them get them.”
Eric Swanson worked out a leadoff walk with two weak popups and an easy fly. (Honestly, I missed much of the 8th inning.)
Jeffrey Springs worked around an E-3 in the ninth with little trouble.
As a whole, the quartet allows six hits, four walks and struck out 13 in the game.
“The starting pitching, like I said, if they can keep us in it,” said Mintz. “Davis came in and gave us three quality innings, Springs finished it up there and Swanson in the middle. That’s what we want, keep us in the game.”
Kannapolis got its first run on a bit of a comedy of errors. With Tyler Sullivan at first, Johan Cruz hit a grounder to Dylan Moore at 1B. Moore botched the grounder, but gathered the ball. However, Moore lofted the throw to Brett Martin covering at first. Sullivan circled the bases on the play and came home as Martin was late covering the plate.
The wind played havoc with pop ups in the top of the fourth inning, but Hickory weathered the storm, so to speak. A popup by Louis Silverio started to the left of the mound, but curved back to Frandy De La Rosa well to the right of second. After Daniel Mendick walked, a popup by Grant Massey that carried beyond De La Rosa and into RF. Jose Almonte wound up recording a 9-6 fielder’s choice on the play.
Ti’Quan Forbes came into the season with a bit of a reputation of the game being too fast for him at third. At least on Thursday, those reports appeared off base. Forbes easily made the long throw across the diamond to nab Fish. But the highlight play of the night came in the fifth when Forbes sprinted across toward the mound to make a quick bare-handed snatch of a roller from Johan Cruz and fired a laser to first to get the speedy Cruz.
The Crawdads had three baserunners thrown out stealing and should have had a fourth. Andy Ibanez was thrown out in the first with De La Rosa going down in the second and fourth. Ibanez should’ve been caught a second time in the fifth as he went into second standing, but Mendick bobbled the catch at 2B.
Jose Almonte showed good speed as he stole second in the third (at 6-3, 205, he looked like a linebacker running) but nearly got picked off at 3B in the third as he circled too far after Eric Jenkins reached on an error. Almonte further showed good wheels by just missing a second infield hit in the eighth.