Bill on Baseball:Hoppers cruise past struggling Lakewood

from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball at

Hoppers cruise past struggling Lakewood

Managers will usually tell you that standings don’t mean much 10 games into the season.

Still, after the Hoppers whipped Lakewood 8-0 Saturday night, they didn’t want to trade places with anyone. Not only did they move into first place in the Northern Division but they also had the best record in the South Atlantic League at 7-3. It was their third straight win over the struggling BlueClaws, who dropped to 1-9 on the season.

The Hoppers had their best offensive night of the season, pounding out 14 hits and scoring in five consecutive innings. It was a night of milestones — catcher Tony Caldwell had the team’s first home run of the year in NewBridge Bank Park and Austin Brice became the first starting pitcher to record a win.

“We swung the bats real well and that was good to see,” said manager Jorge Hernandez. “I think we have the potential to be a very good hitting team.”

The Hoppers scored three times in the second inning to put Lakewood in a hole, then added a run in the fourth, two in the fifth and single runs in the sixth and seventh.

Caldwell was one of three players with three hits, adding a double to his home run, collecting two RBIs and scoring twice. First baseman Viosergy Rosa had a pair of doubles among his three hits plus two RBIs. Shortstop Anthony Gomez collected three hits, drove in two runs and scored twice. Matt Juengel had an RBI for the third straight game.

Asked if he could remember the last time he had a 3-hit game, Caldwell said “I don’t know if there has been one.”

His home run came in the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs, off reliever Miguel Nunez. He ripped a fastball off the batters’ eye in center field, a line drive that hit above the yellow line.

“It felt good,” Caldwell said. “He kept throwing me good pitches but I timed that one right. I’m not really a power hitter, more of a gap to gap guy. That one just happened.”

On the pitching side, Brice threw five shutout innings and Jheyson Manzueta and Frankie Reed pitched two scoreless innings each to complete the shutout. Brice recorded the win, the first Hoppers starter to do so this season. The other six wins have come from the bullpen.

It was an odd outing for Brice, who gave up only two hits but seemed constantly in trouble by walking four and hitting two batters. In the first inning Lakewood got a single, a walk and three stolen bases but Brice managed to get out of the mess without allowing a run.

Cody Keefer’s leaping catch at the left field fence and a nice play by Gomez on a ball that Brice deflected helped Brice in the second. And in the fifth, Brice loaded the bases with two outs but struck out Brian Pointer to end the inning.

“Brice battled,” said Hernandez. “He didn’t have his best stuff but he kept us in the game.”

Caldwell said Brice “is a gamer. He had a hard curve and a power fastball tonight and he made good pitches when he had to. Manzueta threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters and Reed closed the door. We played really good defense behind all three pitchers.”

Greensboro goes for the series sweep with a 4 o’clock game Sunday. Mason Hope will pitch for the Hoppers.