The Savannah Sand Gnats left NewBridge Bank Park for the last time ever Tuesday afternoon, although Michael Katz probably wishes he could hit there a few more times.
The Gnats’ franchise will move to Columbia, S.C., for the 2016 season, relocating to a $37 million, 8,000-seat facility named Sprint Communications Stadium. Savannah has been in the South Atlantic League since 1984 and won four championships, the last in 2013. One it didn’t win was in 2011, when the Hoppers beat the Sand Gnats in five games for the title.
The Gnats left Greensboro with a flourish, posting an 8-6 win. That was their third straight victory in the series after dropping the opener. Katz hit a home run for the fourth straight game, finishing the series with 12 RBIs.
It was a familiar story for the Hoppers. With two outs and two Savannah runners on base in the second inning, first baseman Austen Smith couldn’t handle a ground ball near the bag. One run scored on the error, but it opened the floodgates. Starter Gunnar Kines responded by giving up a walk, a two-run single, a one-run single and Katz’s three-run homer.
The end result was a 7-0 deficit that proved too big to overcome.
“That’s been our M.O. as a staff,” said pitching coach Jeremy Powell. “A crucial error is followed by us not stopping the bleeding. That’s what happens when experienced hitters (like Savannah’s) face inexperienced pitchers.”
Hoppers’ pitchers did finish the game well, holding the Gnats to one run over the final seven innings. Sam Alvis and Jose Velez were especially sharp. Alvis struck out four in two innings and Velez fanned the side in his inning.
The offense at least put up a fight late in the game, cutting a seven-run deficit to two. The Hoppers scored four runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth, but failed to get anything going in the ninth except a two-out double by Brian Schales. But there were other chances earlier in the game as Greensboro wasted many of its 14 hits, stranding nine runners.
“It seemed like we had opportunities every inning,” said manager Kevin Randel, “but we couldn’t chip away at the lead.”
The Hoppers (9-23 in the second half, 38-63 overall) have Wednesday off and begin a four-game series at Kannapolis Thursday.
“If you keep playing hard and keep playing right, good things will happen,” Randel said of the 38 games remaining. “But if you start worrying about your numbers, bad things will happen.”
NOTES: Every Hopper in the lineup had a hit, with Mason Davis getting three … Zach Sullivan had two hits and scored three runs, and Schales and Smith had two hits each … Hoppers pitchers walked six batters, four by Kines, while the Sand Gnats issued none … The Hoppers finished the home stand 2-5.