Hoppers aim to send series to third game
Chris Sadberry pitched in the biggest game of his life back in June.
Friday, he’ll pitch in an even bigger one.
Sadberry will start against Hagerstown in the second game of the Northern Division playoffs Friday night at 7 o’clock in NewBridge Bank Park.
The situation is simple. The Hoppers must win to extend the series to a deciding third game on Saturday or their season is over. They’re down 1-0 after losing the series opener to the Suns on Wednesday, 3-2.
They had a travel day Thursday to think about the what-ifs and might-have-beens of the first game. It was a stinging defeat, with the Hoppers leading 2-0 going into the bottom of the ninth only to see Hagerstown rally for three runs to win it. Now the Hoppers must shut that game out of their minds and approach the second game with fresh minds and an absolute sense of urgency.
Hagerstown will send a tough pitcher to oppose Sadberry. Reynaldo Lopez, a 20-year-old right-hander, went 4-1 with a 1.33 ERA after joining the Suns. On Aug. 19 he pitched six scoreless innings to beat the Hoppers, allowing just two hits and one walk.
But none of that matters now. What’s at stake is a chance for the Hoppers to play more baseball. This has been a resilient team, reeling off a 10-game winning streak to close the first half and win a spot in the playoffs. With that secure, it avoided complacency in the second half of the season, never losing more than three straight games.
Sadberry will need to keep the Suns in check the way Domingo German did, pitching six shutout innings. The left-hander from Texas Tech has been unusually poised since joining the team in July, compiling a 4-1 record and a 2.65 ERA. He spent a week on the disabled list with a strained back late in the season, but came off the DL to throw five innings of one-hit, shutout ball against Kannapolis on Aug. 31. He’s who the Hoppers staff wanted for game two.
He’s got big game experience. Texas Tech made the College World Series for the first time this year and he started its opening game against TCU. He went seven innings and allowed one run on three hits while walking two and striking out five. He was in line to be the winning pitcher but TCU rallied against the Red Raiders’ closer to win the game, 3-2.
After 140 innings (95 in college, 45 as a pro) Sadberry will most likely be limited to five innings, possibly six if his pitch count is low. So the Greensboro bullpen will need to be ready to step in again. Miguel del Pozo and Sean Donatello pitched a scoreless inning apiece in relief of German.
In the ninth, the Hoppers brought in Tyler Bremer, who had given up only one run in seven appearances since joining the club in August. Carlos Lopez (namesake of the Hoppers’ outfielder) opened with a fly ball to center field that was misplayed by normally flawless Yefri Perez into a three-base error. It was only the second error in 104 games in center field for Perez.
Jimmy Yezzo’s groundout to second base scored Lopez and cut the lead to 2-1, but left the bases empty with one out. Bremer then walked David Masters, gave up an RBI double to Wilman Rodriguez and a single up the middle to Rafael Bautista to score the winning run. It was the only hit the Suns got with a runner in 14 opportunities.
The Hoppers offense squandered two good chances to increase the lead. In the fifth, after an error and two wild pitches helped Greensboro score twice, the bases were loaded with one out. Felix Munoz flied out to Narciso Mesa in left field. The Suns had to make a perfect play to keep J.T. Riddle from scoring from third — and they did. Mesa’s relay to catcher Spencer Kieboom was on target and in time and the resulting double play ended the inning.
In the top of the ninth, the Hoppers had runners on first and second with one out. Suns reliever David Napoli got Brian Anderson to hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out, then Munoz to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
That’s history now. Win game two, and the momentum shifts back to the Hoppers and puts doubt in the minds of the Suns. And the Hoppers would be happy to take their chances in game three.