Hoppers find a way to pull out the win
(from Bill Hass on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers at www.gsohoppers.com)
It was wet, it was cold and it was crazy Thursday night.
Playing their first home game of the season, the Hoppers pulled out a 5-4 win over Delmarva in a game it looked like they had won, then appeared they had lost, only to have them find a way to win.
Casey Soltis slapped a single just inside the third base bag to score Aaron Blanton and cap a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth, setting off a big celebration in the middle of the field.
“There’s no other feeling like that in this game,” Soltis said. “You’re out there with your brothers, everybody as one, and you’ve just done something to help them win.”
The weather was miserable, keeping the crowd to 3,733, smallest ever for a home opener in the 11 seasons at NewBridge Bank Park. Rain delayed the start for 45 minutes and continued, lightly, for much of the game. The temperature sign in center field sat at 53 degrees when the game began and never budged in two hours and 58 minutes.
Yet none of that mattered when it was over.
For manager Kevin Randel, it was gratifying to see his players show some grit after losing three of four in Delmarva to begin the season.
“We showed a lot of fight,” he said. “We challenged them in Delmarva, where it seemed like we rolled over. We’re seeing some different players out there now. They’re hungry, and that’s nice to see.”
The Hoppers built a 3-2 lead one a two-run homer by John Norwood in the second inning and a solo shot by Blanton in the seventh. After five good innings from starter Scott Squier and three superb shutout innings from reliever Kyle Fischer, Luis Castillo came on for the save in the ninth.
Castillo retired the first two batters and was within one strike of closing the game when Jomar Reyes singled. Riley Palmer followed with a home run and just like that the Hoppers’ one-run lead became a one-run deficit.
In the bottom of the ninth, reliever Zeke McGranahan retired the first two Hoppers and got the third, Rodrigo Vigil, to hit a routine grounder to shortstop Jared Breen. But Breen’s throw was wide to first base and Vigil, hustling all the way, was safe.
“He busted it for 90 feet down the line and never gave up on it,” Randel said of Vigil.
Blanton then sliced a ball to the right field corner that he stretched into a triple as Vigil scored to tie the game.
“I was looking to hit something hard in the gap,” Blanton said, “and then I was thinking third base all the way.”
Mason Davis was hit by a pitch to bring up Soltis, who came into the game in a 2-for-17 slump. The left-handed hitter chopped one down the line past third baseman Guillermo Salas and Blanton scored the winning run.
“I didn’t change anything in my approach,” Soltis said. “I just want to take one pitch at a time and put good swings on pitches. With two strikes, you just try to put it where they aren’t.”
Randel said different players have to step up and that certainly applied to Blanton, who will get most of the playing time at shortstop while Justin Twine (hamstring) is on the disabled list. He responded with his first professional home run, the game-tying triple and two RBIs.
“I’m a backup guy,” he said, “but whenever I get a chance I have to show what I can do.”
Pitching coach Jeremy Powell was pleased with the work of Squier (five innings, two runs, seven strikeouts) and Fischer, who allowed no hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
“Squier did a good job of making pitches when he had to,” Powell said. “He used his fastball well on both sides of the plate and challenged hitters.
“Fischer was awesome. He was aggressive with his fastball, got ahead in the count and held runners well. That’s about as good a job as you can do.”
NOTES: Castillo was charged with a blown save but wound up as the winning pitcher … Hard-throwing Tyler Kolek will start Friday night’s game for the Hoppers.