Bill Hass on Baseball:Hoppers face must-win and need help

Posted by Guest Columnist on June 18, 2017 at 12:44 am under Professional | Comments are off for this article

Hoppers face must-win and need help
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Sunday will tell the tale for the Hoppers in the first half of the SAL season.

They beat Delmarva 8–2 Saturday in a game shortened to six innings by rain. First-place Kannapolis fell to West Virginia 6–1 while Lakewood rallied to nip Hickory 2–1 in 10 innings.

The results left Kannapolis in first by percentage points over Lakewood with Greensboro one game behind. Hagerstown has been eliminated because it owns no tiebreakers in any scenario. The Hoppers can win the division on the final day, but they will need help. Here’s what has to happen:

Greensboro must beat Delmarva in Sunday’s 4 p.m. game. A loss knocks the Hoppers out.

Kannapolis must lose to West Virginia.

Lakewood must lose to Hickory.

If all that occurs, Kannapolis and Greensboro would be tied with records of 38–30 for a .559 percentage. Lakewood would be 39–31 for a .557 percentage, which would eliminate the BlueClaws. The Hoppers would claim the title, and a berth in the playoffs, because of a 4–3 advantage in head-to-head competition with the Intimidators.

All that leaves Greensboro with no margin for error.

“It’s make or break,” said Colby Lusignan, whose two-run homer in the first inning propelled the Hoppers to the victory. “It comes down to us playing our game and getting a win.

“This is awesome to have something to play for and not be a team just going through the motions.”

Manager Todd Pratt said he was looking forward to “a great game” on Sunday.

“It comes down to the last game of the half for us to have a chance,” he said. “That’s big for our players, no matter what the outcome.”

In the bottom of the first inning, after James Nelson singled, Lusignan belted his sixth homer, a two-run shot to left field. It came off left-hander Alex Wells, a significant accomplishment for the left-handed Lusignan.

“I was looking to stay on the ball and not let my hands fly out,” he said. “He threw a pitch down and out and I stayed on it and got it out.”

Eric Gutierrez singled in a run in the third inning to stretch the lead to 3–0. The Shorebirds cut it to 3–2 in the top of the fourth, but the Hoppers added four runs in the bottom of the fifth for a nice cushion. Luis Pintor had a solo homer, Nelson hit a sacrifice fly and Justin Twine singled in two runs.

“It’s important to keep adding to it and not just sit on the lead,” Lusignan said.

Kolton Mahoney gave the Hoppers what they needed on the mound with five solid innings, allowing four hits and no walks with four strikeouts. It was his fourth appearance since joining the team and parachuting into a pennant race.

“I tried to treat it like every other game I’ve started,” he said of starting a crucial game. “I wanted to compete and pitch to my strengths. The transition here has been smooth.”

In his one difficult inning, when he was nicked for two runs, he gave up three singles and hit a batter. A two-run single by Chris Clare made it a one-run game and left runners on first and second with just one out. But Mahoney got a groundout and a strikeout to stop the Shorebirds right there.

“That could have been a lot worse,” he said. “I left two pitches over the middle of the plate. I’m pretty emotionless out there, so I didn’t want to over-amp myself. I just took it pitch by pitch.”

Mahoney was released by the Yankees despite good numbers with the Charleston RiverDogs and quickly picked up by the Marlins. At age 25, his experience shows on the mound.

“Every pitching coach I talked to said we were going to love him,” said Hoppers pitching coach Mark DiFelice. “It’s nice to see a guy go out with a plan and execute it.”

Kyle Keller pitched a scoreless sixth. After the Hoppers tacked on a run in the bottom of the inning, with lightning flashing and weather radar showing rain on the way, the umpires called for a delay so the tarp could be put down. After about 20 minutes, the rain began and shortly after that the game was called.

“We played playoff baseball for six innings and the rain finished it for us,” Pratt said.

Now the Hoppers need to play playoff baseball one more game.

NOTES: The Hoppers had 10 hits, two each by Eric Gutierrez and Boo Vazquez … Corey Bird scored twice … Lusignan is up to 37 RBIs and Nelson now has 32.

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