Bill Hass on Baseball:Defense, pitching carry Hoppers past Hickory

Defense, pitching carry Hoppers past Hickory
from Bill Hass with Bill on Baseball(Greensboro Grasshoppers) at

So far this season, there’s no place like “The Bridge.”

That would be NewBridge Bank Park, where the Hoppers beat the Hickory Crawdads 3-1 Tuesday night. The win improved their record to 6-1 at home, compared to 3-8 on the road.

“We show energy on the road,” said manager Kevin Randel, “but in a place like Delmarva, which is a graveyard and where it’s cold, if we get behind that’s it. Here, the guys think there’s always some mojo left in the tank. It’s a different feeling at home.”

The mojo that worked for the Hoppers in this game was clutch pitching, outstanding defense and just enough offense. Brian Schales had an RBI double in the third inning and Austen Smith hit his sixth homer, a two-run blast, in the sixth.

Meanwhile, starter Tyler Kolek and three relievers combined to strand 11 Crawdad runners. Hickory got 10 hits and drew two walks but its only run came on a solo homer by Travis Demeritte in the seventh inning.

Kolek picked up his second straight win. He pitched another five shutout innings, running his consecutive total to 10, but this was different than his last outing. He had only one inning when he retired the side in order and spent the rest of the time pitching out of the stretch.

But he was effective doing that, stranding two runners in the first, two more in the third, one in the fourth and two in the fifth.

“He battled with runners in scoring position several times,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “He just continued to make pitches and it was an outstanding effort for him. It was a tight game and he stayed on a pretty even keel.”

There were numerous excellent defensive plays by the Hoppers. One of the biggest came in the third inning after Michael De Leon singled and moved to second with one out. Demeritte singled to right field and De Leon churned around third base. But an excellent throw to home by Ismael Soto changed the mind of Hickory manager Corey Ragsdale, who held up the “Stop!” sign and had DeLeon retreat to the bag. Kolek then got a strikeout and flyout to end the inning.

Shortstop Justin Twine made back-to-back fine plays in the second, sprinting into short left field to snag a popup and uncorking a bullet throw from the hole to get the next batter. Second baseman Mason Davis made a couple of hard-charging plays and third baseman Schales handled some hard grounders.

Davis and right fielder Soto collided on a pop fly that led off the top of the ninth inning. Davis went down, injuring his throwing hand, and Randel said he could miss a game or two.

The play went for a double and reliever Josh Hodges then gave up a walk. But the tall right-hander settled down and disposed of the next three hitters to record his second save.

NOTES: Jacob Smigelski pitched a scoreless inning and Sam Alvis gave up one run in two innings … K.J. Woods came off the disabled list and had two hits, including a double, and scored a run. … Even with the loss, Hickory has a league-best 13-5 record … The game was the Hoppers’ first against someone other than Delmarva and Lakewood … Scott Squier will start Wednesday’s game, which begins at 10:45 a.m. and is the second day for schoolkids.