Bill Hass with Greensboro Grasshoppers Playoff Baseball:“It’s all about heart” for Hoppers

Posted by Press Release on September 10, 2012 at 10:36 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at…..

“It’s all about heart” for Hoppers

The playoffs can get to you.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” said Hoppers manager David Berg. “It’s fun, exciting, nerve-wracking, all in one.”

And that was just in the first round, when the Hoppers put away Hagerstown in two straight games to win the Northern Division championship. Now they face the Asheville Tourists in a best-of-5 series for the South Atlantic League championship, seeking to give the franchise its second straight title. Last year’s Hoppers team won it all against Savannah.

The series opens on the road with games Monday and Tuesday nights at McCormick Field in Asheville, then moves to NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro Thursday and, if needed, Friday and Saturday.

The teams played just one series during the regular season, with the Hoppers winning three of four games at McCormick in late July. Berg said that has no bearing on this series, which he called “a totally different animal.”

Hitting coach Frank Moore said he doesn’t want the team to feel it has any edge because of what happened earlier.

“I want us to go in there like we’ve never played them before,” Moore said after the Hoppers worked out Sunday. “We want to compete and hope we come out on top.

“It’s all about heart now, not what we did before against them or even what we did the last two games. The team with the biggest heart will be successful.”

In the opener the Hoppers will start Andrew Heaney, the Marlins’ No. 1 draft pick out of Oklahoma State. He pitched seven shutout innings against Hagerstown and will be going on his normal four days of rest.

Pitching coach Blake McGinley said Jose Urena will start the second game and Jake Esch the third. Josh Hodges will be ready for game four and if the series goes the distance, Heaney will start the fifth game.

McGinley said Heaney “trusts his stuff and pitches to his strengths. He pounds the (strike) zone and gets ahead in the count. When he does that, he can put hitters away with his good slider.”

The Tourists, managed by the colorful Joe Mikulik, led the SAL with 88 wins during the regular season.

“They’re good,” Berg said. “They can pitch, they can swing it with some pop and they can run.”

The Tourists have a slew of good hitters, including first baseman Harold Riggins, who played at NC State. In the 2010 ACC Tournament played in Greensboro, Riggins hit a home run over the NewBridge Bank Park arch atop the scoreboard, although it was with a metal bat. Riggins has a .302 average with 19 homers and 76 RBIs but has been injured and hasn’t played in a month. He’s apparently available since he’s not listed on the Disabled List.

Asheville has been using Jordan Ribera (.280-10-48) at first base in Riggins’ position. Other good hitters are catcher-DH William Swanner (.302-16-61), second baseman Taylor Featherston (.299-12-53), outfielder Tyler Masey (.292-10-71), third baseman Samuel Mende (.281-12-68) and shortstop Trevor Story (.277-18-63). Five players have 14 or more stolen bases, led by Mende’s 23.

It’s likely Ben Alsup, who went 14-5 with a 3.63 ERA) will draw the start Monday, followed by Tyler Anderson (12-3, 2.47) Tuesday and Chris Jensen (12-3, 4.28) Thursday. Daniel Winkler (11-10, 4.46) could also figure in the mix. The closer is Jefri Hernandez, who recorded 21 saves.

McCormick Field is a small park, not unlike NewBridge, and Hoppers DH Matt Smith hit three homers in the trip there.

“There’s a pretty big wall running from right field to center,” Smith said. “You can pepper line drives off the fence all day but you have to hit it pretty good to get it out, get under it a little.”

The Hoppers have had two days off and Smith said everyone was feeling a little antsy.

“You get anxious, excited,” he said. “You’ve got to find a way to settle down like we’ve done all year. It’s down to five games, so you don’t want to try and do too much.”

Josh Adams, sporting a recent Mohawk haircut, said in a series like this “one or two mistakes could mean the difference in a game.”

Having played at Florida, Adams went to the College World Series twice only to see his team come up short.

“I know the other side,” he said. “It’s nice to make a championship but it never feels good unless you win it.”

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