Bill Hass on Baseball:“It’s a miracle” as Hoppers win first half

Posted by Andy Durham on June 15, 2014 at 10:14 pm under Professional | Comments are off for this article

“It’s a miracle” as Hoppers win first half
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at….

“I don’t know,” Berg said when asked how his team did it. “It’s a miracle. We pitched good we swung the bats well. Overall, they played as a team and got after it. (The coaching staff) just stayed back and let them play. I could tell they really wanted it. They were checking box scores every day.”

KANNAPOLIS — There’s nothing like the sound of a joyous locker room.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers sprayed champagne on everyone and everything around, raised some indecipherable chants, sprayed more champagne, dumped the Gatorade container on manager David Berg, chanted even more and posed for pictures taken with their phones.

They were uninhibited in their celebration, unbridled in their enthusiasm.

And deservedly so.

The Hoppers completed an improbable run to the first-half championship of the Northern Division by thumping Kannapolis 7-1 Sunday afternoon at CMC-NorthEast Stadium. The victory was their 10th straight and 21st in their last 26 games.

They finished the half with a 44-26 record, which was the same as Hagerstown. But the Hoppers owned the tie-breaker by virtue of taking three of four games from the Suns, rendering Hagerstown’s 8-5 win over Greenville meaningless later in the day. Winning the half meant they qualified for the South Atlantic League playoffs no matter what they do in the second half.

“I don’t know,” Berg said when asked how his team did it. “It’s a miracle. We pitched good we swung the bats well. Overall, they played as a team and got after it. (The coaching staff) just stayed back and let them play. I could tell they really wanted it. They were checking box scores every day.”

Avery Romero, who has been a part of championships on several levels through high school, said he had never been around a celebration like this one.

“This is by far the best,” he said. “This is a good group of guys. We all get along and we love playing baseball. We started winning and we knew we had a shot at it.”

The Hoppers chased Hagerstown the entire first half. The Suns threatened to hide from the rest of the division before finally proving human. Still, after it beat Greensboro to open a four-game series, the Suns led by seven games with 10 remaining.

The Hoppers didn’t lose again, sweeping the last three games of that series, then three at West Virginia and four at Kannapolis. Hagerstown stumbled down the stretch, winning just three of its final 10 games.

“This is unreal,” said J.T. Riddle. “Hagerstown was winning the whole first half, then they started to slide and we won three of four from them. Knowing we could beat the best team in the league, at that time, was big for us.”

Justin Bohn, who along with Riddle contributed a home run Sunday, said the key to putting together the winning streak was controlling what the Hoppers could control.

“We just tried to win the game that day, do it every day and we did it,” he said. “It’s unexplainable. This is an awesome feeling.”

In 2012, Berg guided the Hoppers to the first-half championship. No current players were on that team, but hitting coach Frank Moore was part of the staff.

“There’s no way to compare this to years past,” Moore said. “It’s all about the moment. This is a very special group of guys who battled from behind. You strive for the moment and good things happen.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Powell played for Delmarva in 1996 when the Shorebirds won the first half. When he pitched in Japan, his team in Osaka won the Pacific League title.

“They’re all unique and you can’t duplicate the same feeling,” he said. “It never gets old. How dramatic this one was is a first for me. It was great to see everyone pulling together, staying with the task at hand and taking care of business.”

The clinching game was not without some drama. It was a pitcher’s duel much of the game, with Greensboro’s Domingo German against tough Kannapolis right-hander Robinson Leyer. The Hoppers trailed 1-0 through five innings before Riddle broke through against the power pitcher in the sixth, lifting a solo home run to right field over the double stack of billboards.

“I thought I got enough of it,” Riddle said, “but I didn’t know if it would clip the top of the wall. It’s a big wall, and I thought I would at least get on third base and give someone a chance to drive me in. He was throwing a lot of fastballs and I put a good swing on one.”

When Kannapolis went to its bullpen in the seventh, the tide turned for Greensboro. Romero led off against Matt Abramson with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a sacrifice bunt by Carlos Lopez. Chad Wallach followed with an RBI single and Cody Keefer singled. Wallach eventually scored on a fielder’s choice by Yefri Perez and Keefer came in on a wild pitch to make it 4-1. After Riddle walked, Bohn put the icing on the championship cake with a three-run homer to left field for a 7-1 lead.

“I was looking for a fastball I could hit,” Bohn said. “He (Dylan Chavez) threw it in and I got to it. We had already put together a good inning.”

German put the finishing touches on his outing — seven innings, four hits, one unearned run — and improved his record to 7-2. Esmerling de la Rosa retired Kannapolis in the eighth and Tyler Kinley finished things off with a one-two-three ninth.

Finally, the locker room celebration subsided. Most of the contents of the 36 bottles of champagne ordered by team president Donald Moore ended up sloshing on the floor. The players packed their equipment bags and bordered the team bus for the ride home.

Six of the players will head to Hickory for Tuesday’s all-star game — Lopez, Wallach, Felix Munoz, Austin Dean, German and Matt Milroy. Everyone else will scatter for a three-day break, although Berg will stay in Greensboro.

“I’m going to do some reports, relax by myself and let this soak in,” he said.

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