The Hickory Crawdads forced a decisive game three in the Northern Division playoffs of the South Atlantic League by taking a 6-3 win over the West Virginia Power Friday night at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory.
The Crawdads and Power return to Frans Saturday night at 7 p.m. to decide the series with the winner to play the winner of the Southern Division series between Asheville and Savannah, also to be decided on Sunday.
The win was the first playoff win since 2010 and the first home playoff win since the team captured the SAL title in 2004.
An intense game throughout saw the Crawdads take a 1-0 lead in the first on Edwin Garcia’s single to right after two outs.
West Virginia bounced back quickly by hitting its second homer of the series when Connor Joe took Ariel Jurado deep after a walk to Taylor Gushue.
The Crawdads evened the score in the third against Stephen Tarpley when Dylan Moore doubled and later scored on Edwin Garcia’s grounder to second.
The Power again got even in the fifth as Pablo Reyes singled with two outs, stole second and scored on Kevin Kramer’s single to chase Jurado.
After stranding eight over the first five innings, the Crawdads finally took the lead for good in the sixth. Tarpley walked Juremi Profar and Carlos Arroyo back-to-back before Jose Cardona lofted a soft liner into left to score Profar.
Hickory stranded two more in the sixth and the bases loaded in the seventh before finally getting a big hit in the eighth to pad the lead. Cardona and Jose Trevino sandwiched walks around two straight outs before Luke Tendler tripled in both.
Dillon Tate threw two scoreless innings to get the win in relief. Scott Williams pitched two scoreless innings to earn the save.
All-Star Matchup Anything But:
West Virginia’s Stephen Tarpley and Hickory’s Ariel Jurado was named to Baseball America’s Low-A All-Star Team earlier in the day, but neither pitcher was sharp on Friday.
Tarpley looked early as if he would be the same dominant pitcher he was when he three-hit the Crawdads back in August. Left-handed hitter Eric Jenkins waved past a biting slider to start the first and Dylan Moore was jammed on a 5-3 grounder. But then Jose Trevino got enough on a fastball in to reach on a short pop-up that landed between the mound and third. Tarpley shattered Luke Tendler’s bat with a change, but the ball cleared the infield for a hit. Edwin Garcia lined a fastball over the plate for a solid single. From that point, Tarpley seemed to lose control of the fastball and the slider never really had the same bite as it did early. The change he showed in his previous start didn’t have the same effect, which left his fastball for the picking. Of the nine hits Hickory had against Tarpley, eight came on fastballs.
Jurado missed with the slider earlier, getting away with a hanger on a fly out by Kevin Newman to open the game and a single from Kevin Kramer in the third. He brought out the curve in the second and that seemed to be his best secondary pitch of the night. However, when he was unable to throw his slider or change consistently for strikes, the Power hitters were able to ignore or spoil the curve and sit on the fastball. Connor Joe tagged one for the homer in the second. Michael Suchy fought out of an 0-2 count in the third before winning a nine-pitch battle on a change that stayed up. The same scenario played out in the fifth when Kramer battled for eight pitches until he ripped a fastball for an RBI single to chase Jurado. The inability to find a put-away pitch cut his outing to 4.2 innings with Jurado throwing 86 pitches (59 strikes). Six of the seven batters to reach against Jurado did so after two outs.
Umpires with a Tough Night: Home plate umpire Ben Sonntag caught the ire of both sides with what seemed to be inconsistent strike-zone corner to his left. The most egregious was a 3-2 curveball by Jurado in the second that Sonntag appeared to give up on early. The entire Crawdads defense had begun the trot to the dugout – Jose Trevino getting past the home-plate circle – before being called back as Tyler Gushue was awarded the walk. Connor Joe hit the next pitch, a flat fastball, over the fence to left.
Tarpley appeared to balk with runners on the corners in the third. Both Chad Comer at first and Corey Ragsdale at third gave the base umpires an earful.
To their credit, ejections likely would have occured were the game a regular season contest. However, the umpires held their collective thumbs and probably let both sides have a longer leash.
Jurado Settles Down: With Jurado visibly upset after Joe’s homer, the catcher Trevino and the entire infield converged on the mound to console Jurado.
“I just had to talk to him,” said Trevino. “He’s a young kid. He’s got to learn how to hold his emotions in. All season he’s done a good job of doing that. I guess that happening. You saw it in his eyes, he was like, ‘Dang it, that could’ve been a strikeout… it happens.”
Crawdads Show Emotion: After the Power scored three in the fifth to take the lead in game one Wednesday, Hickory went into a funk and saw the final 13 hitters be retired. When the Crawdads lost the lead in the second on a two-run homer under dubious circumstances, the team found some fire.
They rebounded to tie the game in the third, a rally which started when Dylan Moore legged out a double with the slide kicking the ball away from 2B Pablo Reyes. From then on, the Crawdads were the aggressors in the game and never trailed again. The normally stoic Dillon Tate slapped his glove and sprinted to the dugout after Carlos Arroyo picked a sharp grounder to first to strand a runner at third in the sixth.
“I think the first game we saw a little bit of, ‘oh, here we go.’ I think today, we talked a little bit about it before the game. No matter what happens, continue to play. I think you saw that tonight. The guys stayed up. They didn’t get their heads down and they continued to battle and they answered a couple of times.”
Arroyo’s defense: Arroyo played his fourth pro game at first base – all in the past four games – but he made several defensive plays that proved to be crucial. In the second, Arroyo picked a short-hop on a sharp grounder by Chase Simpson to start a 3-6-1 double play. After Arroyo made the play behind the bag in the sixth to save a run, Kevin Newman lofted a soft liner down the first-base foul line in the seventh. Arroyo beat right fielder Jairo Beras to the ball, then turned and fired a strike to second with shortstop Edwin Garcia applying the tag.
Tate dominates: After serving up a single on a first-pitch, 98-mph fastball to Jerrick Suiter in the sixth, Tate settled down to get out of inning. In the seventh, he sat down both Joe and Reyes as 97-98 mph fastballs caught the outside corner at the knees for called third strikes. Joe’s K was set up by sliders at the corner.
“We knew going in that Tate had two innings that we could go to to get him into that position and perform. The first kid jumped on a fastball and (Tate) settled down and got out of it. He had some electric stuff that he was throwing up there.”
The Crawdads Open the Door: After putting up single runs through the first game and seven innings, Luke Tendler’s two-run triple finally gave the Crawdads their first multi-run frame of the series. “We’ve had a ton of games where we just couldn’t get that big hit,” said Ragsdale. “There in the bottom of the eighth, Luke got a big hit for us and drove in two runs and kind of gave us a little breathing room and get the ballgame taken care of.”
Williams Shuts the Door: Scott Williams continued a strong second-half with three strikeouts over the final two innings. Like Tate, he kept a 95-97 mph low and away to righties with an occasional slider mixed in.