Jonathan Ornelas had four hits and sparked an early rally to lead the Hickory Crawdads to a 6-2 win over the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The Crawdads and Blue Claws have now split the first two games of the four-game series, which will resume Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m.
Hickory (15-6) moved within 2.5 games of first-place Delmarva (Md.) in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division after the Shorebirds (16-2) were rained out of their game against Augusta (Ga.) Friday night. Those two teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday. The win also allowed the Crawdads to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time this season. Lakewood defeated Hickory 3-1 in game one of the series on Thursday.
After just 55 hits over the last 10 games, Hickory put together 13 on Friday with 11 coming in the first four innings, during which the Crawdads scored all their runs.
Ornelas’ four-hit night is a pro career high for the Texas Rangers’ third-round pick in 2018. The native of Glendale, Ariz. had three hits on four occasions last year with the AZL Rangers and once already this season on April 12 vs. Kannapolis.
With the Crawdads collectively struggling for offense, Ornelas was placed in the leadoff spot for the first time this year, and that immediately paid off. After a lackluster three-hit performance on Thursday, the Crawdads got a jolt of instant energy from Ornelas during his first trip to the plate.
Facing starter Tyler McKay (0-2), Ornelas sent a blooper down the line in shallow right. Sensing extra bases, Ornelas sprinted out of the box, steered wide in the turn around first and eventually slid into second just ahead of the throw for a double. One out later, Matt Whatley snapped an 0-for-21 slump with an RBI single over the drawn-in infield.
Sam Huff followed with a two-run homer to right to make it 3-0. The high-arching blast was Huff’s fourth-consecutive game with a home run, which was also his SAL-leading tenth of the season. It also increased the team total to a league high 27.
Lakewood (7-15) scored a run in the second, courtesy of an error. With runners at first and second and one out, a wild pitch advanced both 90 feet. An attempt by Matt Whatley to cut down Jonathan Guzman moving to second sailed into center and allowed Malvin Matos to score from third.
The Crawdads rebounded quickly in the third, when they put the first three aboard. Huff started the inning with a walk and moved to third when Sherten Apostel doubled off the base of the wall in left. Jose Almonte singled in Huff and Chad Smith’s grounder to first brought in Apostel. Gilmael Troya’s wild pitch scored Almonte to complete the inning and make it 6-1.
The game’s scoring finished in the fourth when Lakewood’s Cole Stobbe smashed his first homer of the season.
Ornelas added singles in the second, fourth and seventh innings to complete his four-hit night. Whatley and Apostel also had three hits each.
Lakewood put 11 baserunners aboard in seven innings but hit into three double plays and stranded six. One double play in the third likely saved a run and kept the BlueClaws at 3-1. With runners at first and second, Matos hit a ball to the left side of the bag at second. Seise moved to his right and in fielding the play, he reacted quickly to a bad hop by catching the ball with his head turned toward the outfield to start the 6-4-3 twin killing.
Jean Casanova pitched the first four innings for the Crawdads before Tai Tiedemann took over. Lakewood threatened to score against Tiedemann in the sixth, when Matos was hit by a pitch with one out. Guzman singled to put runners on the corners on the corners with two outs. However, Wes Robertson was brought in and struck out Stobbe to end the threat.
Trejo singled to start the seventh but was eliminated on a double play turned between first baseman Apostel and Seise. Robertson pitched to the minimum over his 3.1 innings of work and struck out three to earn the win (1-0).