The Hickory Crawdads rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth Thursday night to defeat the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies 4-3 in the first of a four-game, weekend series in the South Atlantic League.
The Crawdads (38-22) won their second straight and are now 3-1 during the final homestand of the first half. Despite the win, the first-half, Northern Division title hopes continued to fade as Delmarva (Md.) took a 3-2 win in extra innings over in-state rival Hagerstown. Hickory remains 7.5 games out with ten to play and the elimination number dropped to three.
Ronny Mauricio, who plagued Hickory throughout the night, capped a 3-for-4 night with his second home run of the season in the eighth to put the Fireflies up 3-2.
Facing reliever Jose Moreno (2-2), the Crawdads got even when Sherten Apostel hit a high, arching shot just over the fence in right for his eighth of the season to tie the game. Moreno then hit Pedro Gonzalez with a pitch before Matt Whatley joined Gonzalez on the bases with a single.
Melvin Novoa was given the task to advance the runners on a bunt, but fell into a 1-2 hole, with the second pitch hitting his hand on the bat as he tried to avoid a pitch up and in. Novoa hit the next pitch down the line and off the wall in the left-field corner for a double that scored Gonzalez to end the game.
Pitching by both sides dominated much of the game, although Columbia had a quick spurt at the start. Mauricio pulled a 1-2 pitch into the right-field corner for a double and went to third when Pedro Gonzalez bobbled the play. Hansel Moreno cashed in the unearned run with a sacrifice fly to left.
From there, Crawdads starter Tim Brennan retired the next 13 in a row. The right-hander allowed struck out six and allowed five hits over 6.2 innings.
Columbia starter Thomas Szapucki worked around a bases-loaded jam in the first. Kole Enright singled before Miguel Aparicio and Apostel each walked. A quick mound visit settled Szapucki, who then struck out Gonzalez and induced Whatley to hit into a double play.
Colin Holderman took over in the third and Hickory put up single runs the next two innings. Enright and Aparicio singled to place runners on the corners before Apostel’s sacrifice fly brought in Enright.
The Crawdads manufactured a run to take a 2-1 lead and it started with a walk to Whatley. The Crawdads catcher stole his 14th base of the season before moving to third on a wild pitch. Jose Almonte’s single put the Crawdads ahead.
Columbia got even in the sixth with Mauricio against playing a role. With one out, he split the gap in left-center for a double and scored on Hansel Moreno’s single.
Brennan ran into trouble in the seventh, as Columbia threatened to take the lead. After two outs, Brian Sharp and Hayden Senger each singled, which ended Brennan’s night.
Kelvin Gonzalez was brought in, and after three straight balls to Taylor Lane, a grounder to third put down the threat.
Other than Mauricio’s homer, Kelvin Gonzalez held the Fireflies to just a walk and struck out two over 2.1 innings for the win (2-0).