The Hickory Crawdads scored twice in the first inning and the tandem-pitching duo of Wes Benjamin and Erik Swanson made it stand up for a 2-1 win over the Kannapolis Intimidators Sunday afternoon at L.P. Frans Stadium.
The win improves the club’s record to 9-2, which is the best mark through at least the 2000 season (no game-by-game records are available prior to 2000). Hickory completed a 3-1 series win over the Intimidators (4-7) and is now 6-2 against its in-state rival this season.
With two outs in the first, Tyler Sanchez shot a groundball between the first-base bag and 1B Corey Zangari to score Andy Ibanez and Eduard Pinto, who had walked and double respectively.
That turned out to be enough for Benjamin and Swanson. Benjamin completed the first five innings, as he allowed one run on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts.
His only speedbump came in the third. With two outs and the bases empty, Benjamin walked Tyler Sullivan. Grant Massey (3-for-4) doubled and Landon Lassiter walked to load the bases. The run scored as Zangari reached on an infield hit to third, which allowed Sullivan to score. Benjamin then got Cody Daily to ground out to second.
“They started to get rolling as soon as I hit a little hiccup there and I had to adjust with my arm side,” said Benjamin. “I was turning up a little bit too much and throwing a lot more balls than I expected. My defense made some good plays and we worked out of it.”
Kannapolis had an opportunity to score in the fifth as it put together two singles and a double. But Benjamin picked off Daniel Mendick at first. Massey got a sun-aided double and Lassiter singled. However, Benjamin struck out Zangari to set down the threat.
Eric Swanson pitched the final four innings and allowed just one walk and struck out one.
Luis Martinez took the loss for Kannapolis, allowing both runs on just four hits, two walks and striking out five over five innings.
Tyler Sanchez had the lone run-scoring hit of the game for Hickory has he put an inside-out swing on a 1-2 fastball and had enough to shoot it into right.
As indicated by the score, Hickory didn’t put up much at the plate after the first innings, as the Crawdads had only four baserunners after the first.
Martinez was a one-pitch pitcher in the early going, as he was unable to get either the changeup or slider over the plate. However the Crawdads were unable to take advantage. Just 4 for the first 16 secondary pitches found the strike zone through the first 1.1 innings. One that did in the first – a hanger up and middle – was fouled off by Dylan Moore, who went on to strike out.
After Chuck Moorman doubled with one out in the second, Darius Day battled through a 6-pitch AB before striking out on a slider in. LeDarious Clark down 1-2 spoiled a breaking ball that appeared to be off the plate and then swung through the next.
Andy Ibanez had his six-game hitting streak snapped, but his first-inning at bat was a key part of the rally. With the count 2-2, Ibanez laid off a slider that just missed off the plate. He eventually worked a walk and scored the first run.
Eduard Pinto had two hits and a walk, and hit .571 in the series.
The tandem of Wes Benjamin and Erik Swanson has been a good one over the first two turns through the rotation. They have combined to pitch all 18 innings of their turn and allowed one run on nine hits, five walks (four by Benjamin) and strike out 12.
“Obviously, the starter that goes in, you try to go as deep as you can,” said Swanson of the first two outings. “And it’s obviously it’s nice if you can go in, like we have the first two times, and keep them to either one or no runs and have that guy come back in in back end and finish up the game and save our bullpen, too.”
Benjamin showed a fastball that stayed in the 89-91 mph range, and on Sunday that was his best pitch as, for the most part, he was able to spot it effectively for strikes. Of his six strikeouts on Sunday, three were on fastballs that were called-third strikes on the catcher’s glove side. Another was swung through by Corey Zangari.
“I had a set game plan and I knew what I was going to do from the get go. We established the fastball down and then it worked really well for us today.”
His most-used secondary was his change (81-83), that hit the zone for strikes, but other than Zangari’s whiff in the first, it enticed very few hitters to swing. Benjamin admitted that the pitch, normally his best he said, wasn’t on.
“I had to make a couple of adjustments, especially from the stretch. I was rushing a little bit too much and the ball was kind of flying up in the zone. So, I made some adjustments later on and got the ball down.”
Benjamin did break out the curve later on in the outing and Corey Schroeder to swing through one for a strikeout in the fourth.
Erik Swanson was impressive from the very start as his 95 mph sinker to his first batter splintered the bat of Cody Daily for a 6-3 grounder.
“The ball ran in a little bit more than I wanted it to. It was supposed to be on the outer half, but I mixed in a slide step there and it kind of bull-rushed him and caught him off-guard and got in on his hands a little bit.”
It didn’t get much better from there for the Intimidators as Swanson allowed just a walk with two outs in the eighth.
Seven of the 12 outs recorded came on groundouts as he established the sinker and mixed in a 90 mph slider (I think, slider?) that was enough to keep the hitters off stride.
“The plan going in there was to pound fastballs and get in on them a little bit and get some quick outs and hold it where we’re at.”
Battling the sun on a clear afternoon was job-one for both sides. Crawdads outfielder Jose Almonte was the lone casualty as he lost a fly ball by Grant Massey that fell 10 feet in front of him.
3B Ti’Quan Forbes nearly cut off the Intimidators only run of the game as he cut off a grounder in the hole by Zangari. He stumbled a bit as he fielded the ball, which cost him as he throw to second for the potential final out was late.
Almost a clean game but in the eighth, Pinto was caught leaning towards second by left-hander Matt Ball and it turned into an easy pickoff. Pinto did get a good jump on the slow delivery of Taylore Cherry for a steal in the sixth.